September 14, 2000
A newly-appointed full-time judge may not practice law but may write to
former clients to inform them that the law practice has been discontinued,
and how they may retrieve their wills and other legal documents.
22 NYCRR 100.4(G); New York State Constitution,
Article VI, §20(b)(4); Opinions 89-38 (Vol. III),
89-136 (Vol. IV), 97-09 (Vol. XV).
A newly-appointed full-time judge is discontinuing a law practice. The judge asks whether he/she may write to former clients to inform them of the judge's recent appointment to the bench and to tell them that he/she must discontinue the practice of law during the judicial term of office. The letter also states how the former clients may retrieve their wills and other legal documents
Article VI, section 20(b)(4), of the New York State Constitution, and section 100.4(G) of the Rules Governing Judicial Conduct (22 NYCRR 100.4[G]) prohibit full-time judges from engaging in the practice of law. Sending the proposed letter is permissible because the proposed letter does not constitute the practice of law. In fact, by sending the letter, the newly-appointed judge is fulfilling a responsibility recognized by this Committee in two prior opinions. In Opinions 89-38 (Vol. III) and 89-136 (Vol. IV), the Committee advised that a full-time judge must turn over a client's files to and cooperate with a new attorney administering an estate and that a newly-elected full-time judge must terminate a law practice and reassign client files before assuming judicial office. And, in Opinion 97-09 (Vol. XV), the Committee advised that a newly-appointed full-time judge may remain a shareholder of a professional corporation under which the judge had practiced law, solely for the purpose of winding up the professional corporation's affairs.
The inquiring judge may, therefore, send the proposed letter to his/her former clients.