FLORIDA BAR ETHICS OPINION
January 19, 1976
Advisory ethics opinions are not binding.
A law firm representing a municipality in labor relations matters may ethically represent private
clients adverse to the municipality and appear before municipal boards or bodies in matters
unrelated to labor relations.
Canon 5, Canon 9
59-25, 60-12, 65-42, 69-21
Vice Chairman Sullivan stated the opinion of the committee:
A law firm in Florida advises:
1. A municipality with approximately 4,000 employees has a full-time city
attorney and both full-time and part-time assistant city attorneys. One of the
full-time assistants works exclusively for and is answerable only to the City
Council. His assignment is to review legal advice given to the Council by the city
attorney and the other assistant city attorneys.
2. Upon occasion, the municipality retains private attorneys to handle matters
requiring special expertise. The Mayor initiates and recommends to the City
Council the hiring of special counsel. The Council in public session discusses all
details regarding such employment — the nature of the legal work, the term of
employment, the fee arrangement — and then approves or rejects the Mayor’s
3. A labor organization, proceeding under Chapter 447, Florida Statutes, has
filed a petition seeking representation and bargaining rights for a specific group of
municipal employees and has requested a hearing to determine the legal question
of the appropriate unit and for a time, date and place for an election.
4. The City Attorney is of the opinion, in which the Mayor and City Council
join, that his office does not have the expertise to represent the municipality in the
matter. The Mayor and City Council have determined that the municipality must
retain special counsel with expertise in the area of public employer labor relations
and, to protect its interests, must do so immediately. They have asked the law firm
to accept this representation.
5. The law firm is composed of more than 30 attorneys, three of whom
specialize in labor relations. The firm is representing a regular client in a
condemnation action which the municipality is prosecuting. The attorney handling
the condemnation action for the firm will not be involved in the labor matter.
None of the labor lawyers is involved in any other matter pending before the
6. The Mayor and City Council and the client in the condemnation
proceeding have been fully informed and have indicated their desire that the firm
proceed with both matters.
The law firm asks:
1. Whether the firm may ethically represent the municipality before the
Public Employees Relations Commission (see Section 447.05, Florida Statutes) in
the matter involving the unit of employees sought.
2. If the firm undertakes the representation in the labor matter, would other
attorneys in the firm be barred from appearing before other boards or bodies of
the municipal government in matters totally unrelated to the labor matters,
assuming disclosure to and consent by both those clients and the municipality?
A majority of the Committee answers “Yes” to the first question and “No” to the second.
In considering these inquiries we are, of course, dealing with possible conflict of interest
and Canon 5 of the Code of Professional Responsibility. In Opinions 59-25, 60-12, 65-42 and
69-21 we dealt with situations where an attorney or a law firm regularly represented a public
body and sought to represent private clients regularly before that body. We disapproved the
While some members of the Committee believe that those opinions are too restrictive and
should be re-examined, we need not go that far. The proposed representation of the municipality
in the labor matter is for a limited purpose only. The Committee majority believes that the legal
issues in the labor matter and the condemnation case are not so related that independent
professional judgment in behalf of one client will be or is likely to be adversely affected by the
acceptance of such employment or continuance of such multiple employment.
Because the matters in which the law firm proposes to represent other clients before
boards or other bodies of the municipality are totally unrelated to the labor matter, the
Committee majority is of the same opinion regarding representation of those clients.
We believe that the government-in-the-sunshine laws which require advance public
disclosure of the dual representation and the terms of the law firm’s representation of the
municipality eliminate here any problems of appearance of professional impropriety under
Canon 9. The condemnation action was already in progress when the municipality asked the law
firm to represent it in the labor matter. While it does not appear that the law firm has any current
matters before any boards or agencies of the municipality, the firm has represented regular
clients before such boards and agencies in the past.
It seems to us that the law firm is requesting only the right to continue with its regular
practice if it agrees to represent the municipality in the specialized field pursuant to the
municipality’s request. As applied to the inquiries here, we recede from any suggestion in
Opinion 60-12 that a public body cannot agree to such dual representation.
One Committeeman believes the dual representation is improper for the reasons stated in
our prior opinions.