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97 Formal Ethics Opinion 6

January 16, 1998

Failure to Include Address on Direct Mail

 

Opinion rules that the omission of the lawyer's address from a targeted direct mail letter is a material misrepresentation.

 

Inquiry #1:

 

Attorney sends targeted direct mail letters to individuals he knows to be in need of legal representation in particular matters. The letterhead on the stationery for the direct mail letters does not include an address for Attorney's law firm although it lists an 800 telephone number. May a lawyer send a targeted direct mail letter to a prospective client on stationery that includes no address for the lawyer or the lawyer's firm?

 

Opinion #1:

 

No. Rule 7.1 of the Revised Rules of Professional Conduct prohibits false or misleading communications by a lawyer. Paragraph (a) of that rule defines a false or misleading communication as a communication that "contains a material misrepresentation of fact or law, or omits a fact necessary to make a statement considered as whole not materially misleading." The omission of a lawyer's address from the stationery used for targeted direct mail letters is a material misrepresentation because a recipient of the letter will not be able to determine whether the lawyer practices in the recipient's community, in another community in North Carolina, or out of state. Cf., RPC 217.

 

Inquiry #2:

 

Attorney's targeted direct mail letters include the disclosure statement, "This is an advertisement for legal services," which is required by Rule 7.3(c). The print used for the disclosure statement appears to be the same size as the print used for the name of Attorney's law firm. However, the name of Attorney's law firm appears in bold print while the disclosure statement appears in light print that provides little contrast with the color of the stationery. Therefore, the disclosure statement is very difficult to see. Does this stationery comply with the requirements of Revised Rule 7.3(c) regulating targeted direct mail letters?

 

Opinion #2:

 

No. The disclosure statement must be in a shade of print that contrasts sufficiently with the stationery to be easily read by a recipient. Revised Rule 7.3(c) requires the advertising disclosure statement "at the beginning of the body of the written communication in print as large or larger than the lawyer's or law firm's name..." The font size and location of the disclosure are dictated by the rule to insure that the recipients of direct mail letters have notice that the letters are advertisements and may be discarded. This purpose is defeated if the shade of the print is so light that the disclaimer cannot be read.

 

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