FLORIDA BAR ETHICS OPINION
December 9, 1970
Advisory ethics opinions are not binding.
American Civil Liberties Union of Florida is not a provider of group legal services within the
meaning of DR 2-103(D).
DR 2-103(D)(1)(b), D(5)
Chairman Massey stated the opinion of the committee:
Members of The Florida Bar have inquired of this Committee whether or not
the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida is an organization which comes
within CPR DR 2-103(D)(5) and therefore is controlled by Article XIX of the
Integration Rule. For clarity at this juncture, the provision cited is as follows:
(D) A lawyer shall not knowingly assist a person or organization that
recommends, furnishes, or pays for legal services to promote the use of his
services or those of his partners or associates. However, he may cooperate in a
dignified manner with the legal service activities of any of the following,
provided that his independent professional judgment is exercised in behalf of his
client without interference or control by any organization or other person. . . .
(5) Any other nonprofit organization that recommends, furnishes or pays for
legal services to its members or beneficiaries, but only in those instances and to
the extent that controlling constitutional interpretation at the time of the rendition
of the services requires the allowance of such legal service activities, and only if
the following conditions, unless prohibited by such interpretation, are met:
(a) The primary purposes of such organization do not include the rendition of
(b) The recommending, furnishing, or paying for legal services to its
members is incidental and reasonably related to the primary purposes of such
(c) Such organization does not derive a financial benefit from the rendition of
legal services by the lawyer.
(d) The member or beneficiary for whom the legal services are rendered, and
not such organization, is recognized as the client of the lawyer in that matter.
(e) The organization has procured the approval of the Board of Governors of
The Florida Bar pursuant to Article XIX of the Integration Rule of The Florida
Bar and the By-Laws promulgated thereunder.
The Committee observes that this provision refers to “group legal services” and the
Committee will not attempt to define the term as it has many and varied meanings to different
people. However, the Committee does conclude that the American Civil Liberties Union of
Florida is not at this juncture to be regarded as an organization within the purview of DR
Briefly, the ACLU has existed for many years and has not been the subject of any
substantial criticism in being an improper intermediary between lawyer and client. Prior to recent
controversies over certain publicly funded “legal aid” programs, few, if any, would have
regarded the ACLU as being violative of old Canon 35. It should be pointed out that the ACLU
does not always restrict its services to those who are unable to retain legal services, but from
time to time will inject itself into litigation as an amicus curiae. This type of activity in
championing causes which relate to liberties as construed by the organization as relating to
criminal due process, equal protection of the law and freedom of expression and conscience are
not of the type contemplated or affected by DR 2-103(D)(5).
One of the tests of the cited disciplinary rule is that the organization be one which as a
primary purpose does not include the rendition of legal service. Clearly the Florida ACLU does
not meet the test as its primary purpose is to provide legal service. The obvious answer is that the
organization is not within subsection (5).
The Florida ACLU is an organization which does not appear to be specifically considered
by the CPR.
It might be argued that the Florida ACLU is more nearly a legal aid office. See CPR DR
2-103(D)(1)(b). The cited provision refers to a legal aid office “operated or sponsored by a bona
fide non-profit community organization. . . .”
Obviously, the ACLU does not specifically fit in this category as it does not maintain a
community structure as intended within the CPR in broad analysis, however, the Florida ACLU
does in many instances handle, for want of better terminology, “legal aid” cases.
The Florida ACLU submitted an extensive memorandum concerning its history,
procedures and participation in litigation as the same would concern its position within the
framework of Article XIX of the Integration Rule and the CPR. This opinion is based on the
representations contained in said memorandum. Therefore, this opinion is given with the caveat
that the Florida ACLU must restrict its activities to fall within a classification of legal aid
activities or it may well become subject to other portions of the CPR should it extend itself
beyond its normal historical activities.