VIRGINIA UPL OPINION 185
Attorney Prepared Scripts Providing Legal Information on a 900 Telephone Line; Splitting Proceeds With Non-Attorneys; Rental of Lines by Attorneys From Non-Attorneys for Charge Based on Proceeds From Lines.
You have presented a hypothetical situation in which attorneys will prepare legal information “scripts??? to be read on a “900??? telephone line. This telephone service will provide basic factual information on various legal topics, including wills, domestic relations, judgments and employment. The “900??? line must conform to statutory and carrier rules governing the advertising of such service, which advertising will include the name of the law firm preparing the information and the cost per minute of calling the line. The information prepared will be completely factual in nature and will not include any legal advice nor will there be interaction between the caller and information provider.
Since non-attorneys own the line and pay for the start-up and the ongoing service, you have asked the Committee to opine whether this activity constitutes the unauthorized practice of law, and whether the attorneys may share the proceeds with non-attorneys on a percentage basis. You further inquire as to whether the attorneys may rent the line from non-attorneys on a monthly basis calculated on a percentage of the proceeds generated by the line.
The Committee is of the opinion that no attorney-client relationship is created by the operation and use of the “900??? line and therefore the proposed activity is not the practice of law. As a result, the proceeds generated by this activity are not “legal fees??? subject to DR 3-102 which prohibits an attorney from splitting legal fees with a non-lawyer.
The Committee directs your attention to Legal Ethics Opinion No. 1577 which suggests additional precautions, including a disclaimer to the effect that the information provided is not legal advice and cautioning the user not to use the service to attempt solution of legal problems. The user should also be cautioned that there are substantial limitations on the content of the information provided and that the services of an attorney may be required to address specific legal problems. [LEO 1577]
July 31, 1995
Updated: Aug 28, 2006