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RPC 20

January 16, 1987

Solicitation of Business Clients

 

Opinion rules that a lawyer may not use an intermediary to solicit business clients, may not make "cold calls" upon prospective business clients and may not make statements in legitimate communications which are prohibited by Rule 2.1.

 

Inquiry #1:

 

May an attorney or law firm in North Carolina call someone at a bank or an accounting firm and specifically suggest that the institution set up a meeting between the attorney or the law firm and a company with which that attorney or law firm has had no prior relationship, for the purposes of soliciting the business of the company for the attorney or law firm?

 

Opinion #1:

 

No. Rule 2.4(a) specifically prohibits a lawyer from soliciting professional employment from a prospective client where there has been no family or prior professional relationship if a significant motive for the lawyer's doing so is his pecuniary gain. That the attorney or law firm approaches the prospective client's bank or accounting firm first does not insulate the solicitation from the prohibition of Rule 2.4(a).

 

Inquiry #2:

 

May an attorney or law firm in North Carolina utilize the technique of "cold calls" in attempting to cause a company to employ that attorney or law firm?

 

Opinion #2:

 

No. "Cold calls" made in an attempt to cause a company to employ the attorney or law firm directly violate Rule 2.4(a).

 

Inquiry #3:

 

When an attorney or law firm is talking to a potential client, having caused the meeting by one of the above-described methods, and when the potential client is already represented by another attorney or law firm, may the attorney or law firm state or suggest any of the following:

 

a. That the law firm presently representing the company is inadequate in size or quality to perform services for the company?

 

b. That the law firm presently representing the company does not have adequate expertise in certain areas that the company may need?

 

c. That the interviewing law firm would charge less than the present law firm?

 

Opinion #3:

 

If an attorney or representatives of a law firm are talking to a potential client after setting up a meeting in one of the above described methods, the attorney or law firm, of course, is engaging in a prohibited solicitation. Assuming that an attorney or law firm were speaking to a potential client under circumstances not necessarily in violation of the Rules of Professional Conduct, such as where the potential client sought out the attorney or law firm, the statements which may ethically be made are restricted by Rule 2.1. In particular, the attorney or law firm discussing possible representation with a potential client already represented by a different attorney or firm is prohibited from making statements which compare that lawyer's services with those of other lawyers unless the comparison can be factually substantiated. Rule 2.1(c). It may be very difficult to substantiate the type of statements listed above as a small firm may be able to provide services by concentration of their time upon the needs of the particular client and may be able to develop expertise as needed. If the interviewing law firm would in fact charge less than the present law firm, it would not be unethical to say so provided that the interviewing law firm has sufficient knowledge to say so.

 

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