March 10, 2005
NOTE: This Opinion is modified by Joint Opinion 09-59/09-86.
Digest: A part-time judge who is permitted to practice law, may not allow the judge’s law firm to include in the attorney profiles section of the law firm’s website, the fact that the attorney is a part-time judge, but that fact may be included in the attorney’s resume, where upon request, the resume is presented to clients and prospective clients.
Rules: 22 NYCRR 100.2(C); Opinions 97-61 (Vol. XV); 99-105 (Vol. XVIII); 03-34; 04-30.
A part-time judge who practices law asks if the judge may list the fact that he/she serves as a part-time judge on his/her resume and distribute the resume to clients and potential clients of the law firm upon request. In addition, the judge inquires if the fact that he/she is a part-time judge may be included in the attorney profiles section of the law firm’s website.
This Committee has previously stated that it would not be proper for a newly-elected judge to allow the judge’s law firm to mail announcements to clients regarding the fact that the lawyer was recently elevated to the bench. Opinion 97-61 (Vol. XV). Similarly, we have held that it would be improper for a judge to allow the judge’s name or image to be utilized on a law firm’s website regarding the judge’s participation in a careers-in-the law discussion co-sponsored by a local youth organization and the law firm. Opinion 04-30. In making that determination the Committee, citing Opinion 03-34, stated that: “[a] website is a product of the law firm itself and is obviously intended as a promotional commercial product aimed at possible consumers of legal services in the public at large”
In short, it is improper to utilize the judge’s judicial status in these (and other) promotional advertisements directed at the general public for the purposes of soliciting legal business; and, in our view, a law firm’s website is a promotional mechanism intended to aid in the solicitation of legal business. Opinion 99-105 (Vol. XVIII). It can therefore be characterized as using the prestige of judicial office to advance the private interests of the law firm or of the judge. 22 NYCRR 100.2(C).
However, it also has been determined that it is not improper for a part-time lawyer judge to have the judge’s position mentioned in the biographical section of the judge’s law firm’s listing in the Martindale-Hubbell Law Directory (Opinion 99-105 [Vol. XVIII]), on the ground that Martindale-Hubbell is recognized as essentially a reference source for lawyers concerning other lawyers. That is not the situation with respect to a website.
Further, the inclusion of a factual statement regarding part-time judicial status in a lawyer’s resume, to be distributed solely to existing clients and potential clients, specifically at the request of those individuals, is not the same as a promotional advertisement soliciting business from the general population. The danger that the judgeship is being used to further the private interest of the law firm or of the judge in relation to the general public is significantly diminished in light of the limited number of possible recipients as compared with the virtually limitless scope of cyberspace communication.
In sum, a part-time judge should not allow the judge’s law firm to include in the attorney profiles section of the law firm’s website the fact that the attorney also serves a part-time judge. However, that fact may be included in a resume where the resume is being presented, upon their request, to clients and prospective clients.