Legal Ethics Opinion No. 1437

Advertising and Solicitation: Attorney Responding to Inquiries of
                   Deceased Attorney's Clients

You have presented a hypothetical situation in which Attorney W,
a senior member of a local bar association, died recently. 
Attorney W and Attorney A had been close friends and associates
over the past twenty years, even though they maintained separate
and distinct practices.  In 1985, Attorney W suffered a disabling
stroke, and his offices in Attorney A's building were moved from
the sixth floor to Attorney A's offices on the fourth floor so
that Attorney A could handle all of Attorney W's affairs, client
requirements and pending matters.

During the five years preceding Attorney W's death, W's telephone
line was maintained in Attorney A's office. Since Attorney W's
death, Attorney A's office continues to receive several calls a
week from former clients of Attorney W.  Attorney A's office
informs the callers of W's death and offers to assist with
document location, past and pending matters, and any other
requests. Attorney A's office staff presently answers W's phone
by simply stating that the caller has reached W's line, that W
has passed away, and that A has taken over the resolution of all
of W's office matters. 

You have asked the committee to opine whether, under the 
facts of the inquiry, it is improper for an attorney to maintain
a deceased attorney's telephone line in his office. 

The appropriate and controlling Disciplinary Rules related to
your inquiry are DR 2-101(A), which provides that a lawyer shall
not, on behalf of himself or any other lawyer affiliated with him
or his firm, use or participate in the use of any form of public
communication if such communication contains a false, fraudulent,
misleading, or deceptive statement or claim; and  DR 2-102(A),
which states, in pertinent part, that a lawyer or law firm may
use or participate in the use of a telephone directory listing or
similar professional notice or device unless it includes a
statement or claim that is false, fraudulent, misleading, or

The committee has previously opined that it is improper for an
attorney taking over for a disbarred attorney to retain the
disbarred attorney's present phone number as advertised and to
answer the phone as "law offices".  See LEO #934.

Under the circumstances you describe, the committee believes that
it would not be improper to continue to answer Attorney W's
telephone in the manner you describe for a reasonable period of
time following his death, in order to assist his clients who were
unaware of his demise.  The committee does believe, however, that
to retain the deceased attorney's telephone number beyond that
reasonable period of time necessary to notify W's clients,
Attorney A may be engaged in communications which are potentially
false, fraudulent, misleading, or deceptive.  Furthermore, the
committee also believes that if maintaining the telephone number
entails Attorney A's also retaining the deceased Attorney W's
telephone directory listing, such continuation of a deceased
attorney's advertising would be improper and violative of DRs
2-101(A) and 2-102(A).  The committee thus opines that it would
be improper for the attorney to maintain the deceased attorney's
telephone line in his office beyond the reasonable time necessary
to apprise Attorney W's clients of his death, unless the
directory listing and method of answering the line are changed to
indicate that the telephone line is presently reaching the
offices of Attorney A. 

Committee Opinion
October 21, 1991