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Solicitation after Seminar, Gifts to Clients and Others, and Distribution of Business Cards

Adopted: April 25, 2008

Opinion provides guidance on miscellaneous issues relative to client seminars and solicitation, gifts to clients and others following referrals, distribution of business cards, and client endorsements.

Inquiry #1:

May an attorney advertise and conduct educational seminars for non-clients and, at the end of the presentation, request that the attendees complete an evaluation feedback form which includes the attendee's name, contact, and family information, as well as check boxes to indicate areas of particular interest and a desire, or not, for a free, personal consultation?

Opinion #1:

An attorney may conduct educational seminars for non-clients. See RPC 36. The attorney may advertise the seminars so long as the advertisements comply with the Rules of Professional Conduct. See Rule 7.2. The attorney may request attendees to complete an evaluation feedback form that includes the attendee's name, contact, and family information, as well as check boxes to indicate areas of particular interest. After the seminar, the attorney may not contact an attendee by in-person or telephone solicitation, but must wait for the attendee to contact the attorney. Rule 7.3(a).

Inquiry #2:

May an attorney host a purely social, non-education function for clients and non-clients, including allied professionals, at no charge to them, who have referred prospective business to the attorney?

Opinion #2:

An attorney may host a social function for existing clients, non-clients, or both. See RPC 146. The attorney may invite non-clients, provided the attorney does not solicit business from the non-clients.

Inquiry #3:

May an attorney send a restaurant or store gift certificate to a client or non-client in appreciation for a referral from that person?

Opinion #3:

No. Rule 7.2(b) prohibits a lawyer from giving anything of value to a person for recommending the lawyer's services.

Inquiry #4:

May an attorney send gifts of nominal value—such as holiday fruit baskets, flowers, or gift certificates—to existing clients or non-clients with whom the attorney has an existing professional relationship?

Opinion #4:

Yes, as long as a gift is not a quid pro quo for the referral of clients. Rule 7.2(b).

Inquiry #5:

If a client, non-client, fellow attorney, or allied professional requests one or more business cards or firm brochures from an attorney, may the attorney oblige the request?

Opinion #5:

Yes. The potential for abuse or overreaching is not present where an attorney gives multiple cards or brochures to a third party if there is no understanding that the recipient will engage in in-person solicitation on the attorney's behalf. Rule 7.3.

2006 FEO 7 is distinguishable because it deals with the distribution of business cards at a meeting of a for-profit networking organization whose stated purpose is to provide referrals to its members.

Inquiry #6:

Along with a thank-you letter from the attorney to a client for the client's having allowed the attorney to provide services to that client, may the attorney include a business card and/or firm brochure with the suggestion that the client, if so willing, pass it along to someone who the client thinks might need similar services?

Opinion #6:

Yes, so long as there is no incentive for the client to engage in in-person solicitation on the attorney's behalf. 2006 FEO 7 is distinguishable because it deals with members of a for-profit networking organization rather than a former client.

Inquiry #7:

At the conclusion of rendering services to the client, assume the attorney includes with a thank-you letter a "report card" form for the client to return, if so willing, indicating the client's level of satisfaction with various aspects of the attorney/client experience. If the client chooses to make favorable comments about the attorney or services and expressly consents to the use of those comments for the attorney's marketing purposes, may the attorney use those testimonials in any of its advertising media?

Opinion #7:

With the clients' consent, an attorney may use client endorsements if the clients' statements are truthful "soft" endorsements of the attorney's services that do not create unjustified expectations about the results that the attorney can achieve. A soft endorsement describes characteristics of the lawyer's client service and does not describe the results that the lawyer achieved for the client.

Inquiry #8:

If the attorney's office is in North Carolina but the attorney is also licensed to practice in or for clients in another state, and something is expressly allowed ethically by the other state but prohibited in North Carolina, is the attorney subject to discipline in North Carolina?

Opinion #8:

Yes, if the conduct is unethical under the North Carolina Rules of Professional Conduct and the lawyer's conduct occurred in North Carolina or the predominant effect of the conduct is in North Carolina. Rule 8.5(b)

Inquiry #9:

If any of the foregoing activities are prohibited, which ones must be reported to the State Bar pursuant to Rule 8.3?

Opinion #9:

As stated in Rule 8.3, a violation of the Rules of Professional Conduct that raises a substantial question about a lawyer's honesty, trustworthiness, or fitness must be reported to the State Bar.

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