Opinion 87-8
(May 1987)

Your letter inquiry of April 8, 1987, was submitted to the Professional Guidance Committee for review at its meeting on April 20, 1987. Given the facts stated in your letter, and no other relevant facts, we find no prohibition against your proposal.

However, it seems to us that there was an additional relevant fact to be inferred. We infer that the "group of attorneys" will on occasion, individually or jointly, represent persons in asserting personal injury claims against the third parties, where such persons are also purchasing/leasing medical equipment from the proposed limited partnership. It is not our assumption that such lease or purchase from the limited partnership will be at your direction or insistence, but simply that in fact a client of one or more of the lawyers will also be a customer of the limited partnership.

In that event, the fact that your "client" is also a "customer" of the limited partnership, may run afoul of several of the disciplinary rules. We noted in passing that full disclosure would be required. First, DR 5-101(A) states as follows:

Except with the consent of his client after full disclosure, a lawyer shall not accept employment if the exercise of his professional judgment on behalf of his client will be or reasonably may be affected by his own financial, business, property, or personal interest.

Further, DR 5-107(A) states:

Except with the consent of his client after full disclosure, a lawyer shall not (1) [not applicable] (2) Accept from one other than his client any thing of value related to his representation of or his employment by his client.

We also considered that DR 5-103 may also be applicable to such an arrangement:

5-103(A) A lawyer shall not acquire a proprietary interest in the cause of action or subject matter of litigation he is conducting for a client, except that he may [two exceptions not applicable here]. 5-103(B) While representing a client in connection with contemplated or pending litigation, a lawyer shall not advance or guarantee financial assistance to his client... [exceptions not applicable here].

We were also mindful of the requirement of Canon 9 that a lawyer should avoid even the appearances of professional impropriety. Finally, we were concerned that in any settlement of the client's claim, a lawyer might be less forceful in seeking to reduce the "customer's" obligation to the limited partnership.

It is our view, therefore, that in the circumstance where your "client" is also a "customer" of the limited partnership, the foregoing considerations must be kept in mind.

The Philadelphia Bar Association's Professional Guidance Committee provides, upon request, advice for lawyers facing or anticipating facing ethical dilemmas. Advice is based on the consideration of the facts of the particular inquirer's situation and the Rules of Professional Conduct as promulgated by the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania. The Committee's opinions are advisory only and are based upon the facts set forth. The opinions are not binding upon the Disciplinary Board of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania or any other Court. They carry only such weight as an appropriate reviewing authority may choose to give it.