Ethics Opinon 1974-1

January 22, 1974

SUBJECT: LAW STUDENTS

I
QUESTION PRESENTED

The Environmental Law Society, a law student organization at the University of San Diego School of Law, funded by the Student Bar Association, desires to have its student members comment in writing on environmental impact reports prepared for the cities in San Diego County, for the County of San Diego itself, and to make appearances at public hearings before local governmental agencies and provide "input" on projects of environmental interest.

(1) May the law student members of the Environmental Law Society of the University of San Diego, School of Law, ethically comment in writing on the environmental impact reports;

(2) Make appearances at public hearings before local governmental agencies; and

(3) Provide "input" on environmental projects?

II
SUMMARY

Yes, the law students may so comment in writing and appear before local governmental agencies and provide input on environmental projects, provided they make it clear to the agency that they are not licensed attorneys, nor do they perform the professional functions of a lawyer.

III
STATUTES AND CANONS

California Business and Professions Code section 6127 sets forth "acts or omissions in respect to the practice of law," which are "contempts of the authority of the courts." They are:

(a) Assuming to be an officer or attorney of a court and acting as such, without authority;

(b) Advertising or holding oneself out as practicing or as entitled to practice law or otherwise practicing law in any court, without being an active member of the State Bar.

Rule 19 of the Rules of Professional Conduct of the State Bar of California sets forth the requisites for appearances before nonjudicial bodies by nonlawyers. Rule 19 provides:

"A member of the State Bar shall not permit a person not licensed to practice law to appear in the name of or on behalf of the member of the State Bar before any board, commission, or other administrative agency, notwithstanding that it permits the appearance of persons not so licensed."

IV
FORMAL OPINIONS

The Committee on Professional Ethics and Grievances of the American Bar Association has considered questions involving law student activities in relation to the practice of law. In Formal Opinion No. 85 the Committee provides that an attorney may avail himself of the assistance of a law student. The opinion stated it was acceptable:

". . . in many of the fields of the lawyer's work, such as examination of the case law, finding and interviewing witnesses, making collections, examining court records, delivering papers, conveying important messages, and other similar matters. But the student is not permitted, until he is admitted to the Bar, to perform the professional functions of a lawyer."

Such professional functions include conducting court trials, giving advice to clients or drawing legal documents for clients.

V
LOS ANGELES COUNTY BAR ASSOCIATION OPINIONS

The Committee on Legal Ethics of the Los Angeles County Bar Association, in Opinion No. 143, faced a similar question to the one at bar. The Bar Committee was asked whether a member of the State Bar may "employ a layman to appear before administrative boards who do not limit appearances to licensed attorneys."

The Committee held that an employee may properly appear before such boards, but that it must be made clear to the (attorney's) client that he is not an attorney licensed to practice law in this State. The Opinion also cites Formal Opinion No. 85 referred to above.

VI
ANALYSIS

The question presented in this memorandum is not one which clearly comes within the scope and directives of the state law and rules of conduct which pertain to unauthorized practice of law. Section 6127 of the California Business and Professions Code declares it to be a contempt of court if the law student assumes himself to be an officer or attorney of court, and who acts as such, or if he holds himself out as practicing or entitled to practice law. Formal Opinion No. 85 in listing sanctioned types of activities of a law student does not preclude the type of activity proposed herein, so long as the law student does not attempt to "perform the professional functions of a lawyer." In Opinion No. 143, the Los Angeles County Bar has sanctioned the appearance of a layman in the employ of an attorney before an administrative board which does not limit its appearances to licensed attorneys.

It is the writer's opinion that it would be ethical for the law student members of the Environmental Law Society of the University of San Diego School of Law, to comment in writing on environmental impact reports and to make appearances at public hearings before local governmental agencies, and to provide input on environmental projects, so long as they do not hold themselves up as licensed attorneys or perform the professional functions of a lawyer while so appearing.

CAVEAT

It appears that the Environmental Law Society is composed entirely of law students and they are acting under the direction of professors of law (presumptively members of the California Bar) and are seeking practical experience. This in and of itself is commendable, both with regard to the student's desire to assist in the betterment of our environment and their desire for practical experience; however, the students and professors directing the project should exercise great caution in making full disclosure to the governmental agencies before which they may appear, and in providing "input" that they are not members of the Bar and not offering legal advice on behalf of the Society, or the School of Law.

This opinion is advisory only. It is not binding upon the State Bar, the Board of Governors, its agents or employees.

EDITOR'S NOTE: California Rule 19 was omitted when the new Rules of Professional Conduct superseded the former rules effective 1/1/75.

 

Disclaimer: This opinion was issued by the Legal Ethics Committee of the San Diego County Bar Association. It is advisory only and is not binding upon any member of the SDCBA, any other member of the State Bar of California, the State Bar of California or its Board of Governors, or any persons or tribunals charged with regulatory responsibilities. The SDCBA, its officers, directors, agents, and the Legal Ethics Committee members assume no responsibility or liability in rendering this opinion.