FLORIDA BAR ETHICS OPINION
January 4, 1965
Advisory ethics opinions are not binding.
An attorney may write a column in a newspaper if such discussion is of general matters
of law and does not advise on specific or individual problems.
27, 35, 40, 47 [See current 4-1.1, 4-1.4, 4-7.11, and 4-5.5]
61-40, 63-29; ABA 92, 162, 270
Chairman Smith stated the opinion of the committee:
A member of The Florida Bar poses the following question:
An attorney has been asked to write a weekly column in a local newspaper for the
purpose of generally informing the public as to the basic legal rights that the average citizen
should be aware of. The column will not undertake to advise on any specific problem or answer
any individual question that may be submitted. The object of the column will be to keep the
discussion of the law general and as non-technical as possible.
Further, this attorney will be given no credit as an attorney nor will it in any way be
indicated that he is a practicing member of the Bar.
We are asked if it would be proper for the attorney to write such a column.
In our Opinions 61-40 and 63-29 [since withdrawn] we said:
Canon 40 of the Canons of Professional Ethics states: “A lawyer may with
propriety write articles for publications in which he gives information upon the
law; but he should not accept employment from such publications to advise
inquirers in respect to their individual rights.”
ABA Opinion 92 states: Writing and selling for publication articles of a general nature on
legal subjects, is not per se improper.
ABA Opinion 162 holds that it is not unethical for an attorney to write articles on legal
subjects for magazines or newspapers, and the fact that publication is in a trade magazine makes
no difference. It is unethical for an attorney to allow his name to be carried in a magazine or
other publication, representing that he is an attorney for a named organization and will furnish
free legal advice to its members.
ABA Opinion 270 holds: A lawyer may not answer, even anonymously, inquiries for
advice as to individual rights through the medium of a newspaper column.
Drinker, Legal Ethics, at page 263-64 says:
“A lawyer may with propriety write articles for publications in which he
gives information upon the law; but he should not accept employment from such
publications to advise inquires in respect to their individual rights.”
The application of Canon 40 to borderline cases always involves the question
of good faith on the part of the lawyer and of the publisher or sponsor of the
article or address.
The transgressions of ethical principles primarily to be guarded against are:
(1) The improper advertisement of the lawyer . . .
(2) The giving by him of legal advice to persons with whom he has not the
personal contact and background required between the lawyer and client to make
his advice reliable . . .
(3) Enabling the lay publisher, sponsor, or broadcaster to give legal advice,
constituting the unauthorized practice of law . . .
Whether or not the lawyer is paid for articles is not decisive.
It is believed that Canon 40 was designed primarily to sanction articles in law magazines
or occasional articles in other publications and that it would be difficult if not impossible to
conceive a daily, weekly or monthly column in a newspaper or magazine devoted to the
discussion of legal matters which would not, sooner or later, violate Canon 40 and also Canons
27, 35, and 47. What the readers of such columns want is not a general discussion such as they
can find in a law book or in an article in a law magazine, but something practical which they can
apply to their own personal experience. Laymen usually are unable to formulate questions clearly
to such a column and a lawyer answering such is apt to follow what he thinks his readers want to
hear about and to answer the personal problem which he sees behind their questions. This is what
the publishers will ultimately see that they get.
Within the limits expressed the articles or articles contemplated are not improper.