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RPC 98

October 17, 1990

Solicitation, Prior Professional Relationships and Advertising

 

Opinion construes the term "professional relationship" and explores the circumstances under which solicitation of persons or organizations with whom a lawyer has had business and professional dealings is permissible. Targeted print advertising is also discussed.

 

Inquiry #1:

 

Attorney A has joined law firm XYZ. Prior to joining XYZ, Attorney A was a member of law firm TUV. While employed at law firm TUV, Attorney A provided legal advice to Client E and had frequent, direct contact with various executives of Client E. Law firm TUV also represented Client F while Attorney A was a member of TUV, though Attorney A never dealt directly with Client F.

 

Does Attorney A have a "prior professional relationship" with Client E such that it is proper for Attorney A to contact executives of Client E in person for the purpose of soliciting professional employment?

 

Opinion #1:

 

Yes.

 

Inquiry #2:

 

Does Attorney A have a "prior professional relationship" with Client F such that it is proper for Attorney A to contact Client F for the purpose of soliciting professional employment?

 

Opinion #2:

 

No. For the purposes of Rule 2.4(a), the term "prior professional relationship" contemplates that the subject attorney actually was involved in a personal attorney-client relationship with the prospective client. The mere fact that the subject attorney might have belonged to a firm which included another lawyer or lawyers who may have had such a relationship would not exempt the subject attorney from the rule's prohibition against in-person solicitation.

 

Inquiry #3:

 

Attorney A has joined law firm XYZ. Prior to joining law firm XYZ, Attorney A was in-house corporate counsel for Corporation C. Does Attorney A have a "prior professional relationship" with Corporation C such that it is proper for Attorney A to contact in-house counsel or executives of Corporation C for the purpose of soliciting professional employment?

 

Opinion #3:

 

Yes, an attorney who has previously served as in-house counsel for a corporation may, on the basis of that prior professional relationship, properly contact the corporation's current in-house counsel or its executives for the purpose of soliciting professional employment.

 

Inquiry #4:

 

Attorney B was formerly an attorney with law firm XYZ. Attorney B left his employment with law firm XYZ and is now in-house corporate counsel for Corporation C. Do attorneys practicing with law firm XYZ have a "prior professional relationship" with Attorney B, such that it is proper for an attorney with law firm XYZ to contact Attorney B for the purpose of soliciting professional employment?

 

Opinion #4:

 

No. As used in Rule 2.4(a), the term "prior professional relationship" has reference only to a lawyer's professional relationship with a particular client. That a lawyer might have at one time been professionally associated with a lawyer who has become in-house counsel for a prospective corporate client is irrelevant.

 

Inquiry #5:

 

Attorney A is a member of law firm XYZ. Attorney A is a member of the Board of Directors of Corporation C. Attorney A has served only as a director of Corporation C; neither Attorney A nor law firm XYZ has been retained to represent Corporation C. P, also is a member of the Board of Directors of Corporation C, is President of MN Bank.

 

Does Attorney A have a "prior professional relationship" with executives of Corporation C, such that it is proper for Attorney A to contact executives of Corporation C in person for the purpose of soliciting professional employment?

 

Opinion #5:

 

No. See the response to inquiry #4 above.

 

Inquiry #6:

 

Does Attorney A's association with P as directors of Corporation C constitute a "prior professional relationship," such that it is proper for Attorney A to contact P in person for the purpose of soliciting professional employment?

 

Opinion #6:

 

No. See the response to inquiry #4 above.

 

Inquiry #7:

 

Attorney A is a member of law firm XYZ. Prior to joining law firm XYZ, Attorney A was in-house counsel for Corporation C. Attorney A was actively involved in professional groups, through which Attorney A worked with other in-house corporate counsel on professional subjects of common interests. As a result of that involvement, Attorney A developed close relationships with other corporate counsel, including Attorney B, who is in-house corporate counsel for Corporation D.

 

Does Attorney A have a "prior professional relationship" with Attorney B, such that it is proper for Attorney A to contact Attorney B for the purpose of soliciting professional employment by Corporation D?

 

Opinion #7:

 

No. See the response to inquiry #4 above.

 

Inquiry #8:

 

Law Firm ABC has prepared a summary of changes in North Carolina corporation law. Law firm ABC anticipates that in order to comply with the changes in the law, corporations in North Carolina will need to take certain action that would normally involve the services of attorneys, but law firm ABC does not know what the specific legal needs of various corporations will be. The summary identifies law firm ABC, the location of its office(s) and some or all of its attorneys and states that specific members of the firm are available to provide legal services regarding the matters discussed in the brochure.

 

Law firm ABC has distributed this summary to its present clients and would like to distribute the summary to corporations that are not present clients. In addition, brokerage firm X, which is not a client of law firm ABC, but which has some of the same clients as law firm ABC, has requested copies of the summary for distribution to its clients. Law firm ABC also plans to hold a seminar to explain the new changes in the law. At the seminar an announcement will be made that members of law firm ABC are available to provide legal services regarding the matters discussed at the seminar, but there will be no request that attendees engage the firm's services. The firm views both the summary and the seminar as educational and general marketing services, not specific solicitations.

 

May law firm ABC distribute this summary to nonclient corporations without labeling the summary as an "advertisement?"

 

Opinion #8:

 

Yes. Rule 2.4(c) requires that a communication be labeled as a legal advertisement only when it is directed to a prospective client known to need legal services in a particular matter. For the purposes of the rule, the term "in a particular matter,'' has reference to discrete factual incidents directly involving the prospective client of which the communicating lawyer has acquired knowledge. The rule was not intended to apply to communications sent to clients who, because of their mere existence in a complex and ever-changing legal environment, may need legal advice and assistance in maintaining compliance with existing law.

 

Inquiry #9:

 

May law firm ABC, without labeling the summary as an "advertisement," give copies of the summary to Brokerage Firm X (as requested by Brokerage Firm X), knowing that Brokerage Firm X plans to distribute the summary to (a) clients and (b) prospective clients of Brokerage Firm X?

 

Opinion #9:

 

Yes, assuming that such material is not given to prospective clients who are known by the lawyer or the brokerage firm to need legal services in a particular matter.

 

Inquiry #10:

 

May law firm ABC invite nonclient corporations to attend the seminar without labeling the invitation as an "advertisement?"

 

Opinion #10:

 

Yes.

 

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