You have asked the Committee whether your law firm may take union representatives to dinner or give them Christmas gifts having a value of less than $100 under the following circumstances. Your law firm represents workers in a particular industry in personal injury matters. Officials of the industry workers union provide your firm with information about procedures in the industry, help locate witnesses, and provide liability and damage information, all of which benefits the union members whom your firm represents. Occasionally, some of the union officials refer injured union members to your firm. You have told the Committee that nothing of value is exchanged between the law firm and the union officials who refer the injured union members to it and that there is no understanding of any kind that anything of value will be exchanged for such referrals. You have indicated that the dinners and/or gifts are intended as expressions of appreciation for the information and help provided by the union officials and to maintain friendly relations with such officials and that the dinners and/or gifts would be given to union officials who have never referred a client to the firm, as well as to officials who have referred clients to the firm.
Rule 7.2(c) of the Rules of Professional Conduct (the "Rules") prohibits an attorney from giving "anything of value" to a person for recommending the attorney's services. You have stated in your inquiry that your law firm does not intend to give the dinners and/or gifts for referrals. In order to avoid violating Rule 7.2(c), it is essential that this intention be strictly adhered to. The dinners and/or gifts should not be related in timing or value to the referrals. (Although this Rule does not make any exception for de minimus gifts, the nominal value of the dinners and/or gifts which your firm intends to give supports your position that the gifts are not being given for referrals.)
In order to better assure that an attorney maintain her or his professional independence, Rule 5.4(c) of the Rules prohibits an attorney from permitting a person who recommends her or his services to direct or regulate those services. The attorneys in your firm must be careful, therefore, that the "friendly relations" developed with the union officials do not interfere with the attorneys' representation of the firm's clients. In particular, the attorneys must be careful to watch for any potential conflicts of interest between a client and the union, and, of course, client confidentiality, as prescribed by Rule 1.6, must be maintained at all times.
In summary, it is the Committee's opinion that your firm's plan to take union officials to dinner and/or to give Christmas gifts to them valued at less than $100, as stated, does not violate the Rules.