Bar Rules

Advisory Opinion 5

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State Disciplinary Board
September 20, 1968
Amended by the Formal Advisory Opinion Board
March 1993

Propriety of an attorney permitting the use of his or her letterhead stationery by a retainer client who is writing as a creditor or as a collection agency seeking to collect an account or debt from the recipient.

The question submitted is actually in five differing forms, but each question involves certain ingredients which result in the advisory opinion being the same as to each. DR 3-101(a) provides: "A lawyer shall not aid a non lawyer in the unauthorized practice of law." See also Standard 24. It may well be that under this rule the varying factual situations may be productive or varying conclusions. The determination of what constitutes the unauthorized practice of law in Georgia is a matter of statutory interpretation, O.C.G.A. ยง 15-19-50 et.seq., and this opinion is not based on either the above standard or statutes.

Standard 4 requires that "A lawyer shall not engage in professional conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or willful misrepresentation." In light of these admonitions, it is professionally improper for a lawyer to furnish his or her letterhead to a client for the purpose stated. A lawyer is an officer of the court. As such, the lawyer assumes certain responsibilities, is under certain obligations and the lawyer's conduct is subject to certain restrictions and limitations. The lawyer is obligated to uphold the honor and dignity of the profession. See EC 9-6. The lawyer's participation in conduct contemplated purely and simply to deceive is incompatible with those responsibilities and obligations.

In addition, a lawyer has been given certain privileges by the State. Because of these privileges, letters of the character stated in the question purporting to be written by lawyers have a greater weight than those written by laymen. It is obvious that the sole reason for the practice is to give the letter the weight that lawyers alone can contribute. That end can be gained only through the deception which is manifestly out of harmony with the Code of Professional Responsibility. See EC 3-3. The lawyer cannot, therefore, delegate to a nonlawyer.

The practice described is violative of both the letter and the spirit of the ethical canons and constitutes unethical practice.

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