The Florida Bar

Ethics Opinion

Opinion 77-15

October 25, 1977
Advisory ethics opinions are not binding.
A member of The Florida Bar may not ethically join a labor union of lay and attorney employees
if the union relates to his federal employer.
Note: This opinion has been superseded by the Board of Governors advisory opinion that
follows immediately after Opinion 77-15.

64-57, ABA Formal 275, ABA Informal 267 and 986
Drinker, Legal Ethics, p. 160

Vice Chairman Richman stated the opinion of the committee:
A member of The Florida Bar asks whether he may ethically join a labor
union of lay and attorney employees where such union relates to his employer,
which is a federal agency.
The Committee believes that such conduct would not be ethical.
Under Opinion 64-57, the Committee held that it was improper for a lawyer, employed
full-time as an assistant to [sic] city attorney, to be a member of an association of city
employees. The opinion further held that it would be improper for the lawyer to act on behalf of
the employees before the city, a matter that is not involved in this inquiry.
The former opinion which is adhered to herein is based on longstanding precedent.
Drinker, Legal Ethics, p. 160, states: “A lawyer may not belong to a labor union which includes
persons not lawyers. By so doing he surrenders his power of independent action.” Similarly, in
ABA Informal Opinion 267 it was stated that “a lawyer may not join a union of the employers
and employees.” ABA Formal Opinion 275, involving a lawyer employed full-time by an
insurance company, similarly points out the possibility of a conflict of interest between the
company and its union while stressing the importance of a lawyer’s obligation to keep in
confidence information gained from his employment.
The import of these precedents is the obvious divided loyalty of the lawyer-employee
with respect to the employer and his membership in a union composed of both lawyer and lay
The Committee notes, but need not and does not here address the subject of, ABA
Informal Opinion 986 as to a lawyer who is a salaried employee of a single client, such as a
governmental agency or a corporation, being a member of a union composed entirely of
attorneys if certain stated conditions are observed as to complying with provisions of the Code of
Professional Responsibility.