Requesting New Informal Opinions

Supreme Court Rule 5.30(c) gives the Legal Ethics Counsel the authority to issue non-binding informal opinions on "matters of special concern to the lawyer" requesting the opinion. The Legal Ethics Counsel issues written and oral informal advisory opinions. The Legal Ethics Counsel can not provide opinions or advice regarding legal, rather than ethical, questions.

When requesting an oral or written informal advisory opinion, the attorney should review the Rules of Professional Conduct first. The Rules of Professional Conduct are found collectively in Supreme Court Rule 4, which is included in Missouri Rules of Court. Reviewing the rules will assist the attorney with phrasing the specific question(s) that relate to the particular situation. It may also be possible to find the answer or further define the question by researching existing opinions.

Criteria

General and hypothetical questions cannot be answered in an informal advisory opinion.

Requests regarding advertising materials must include specific questions. The Legal Ethics Counsel cannot honor a request to generally review advertising materials for problems.

Informal advisory opinions are only issued regarding the conduct of the attorney asking the question, or an attorney asking as a representative of the other attorney.

An opinion will not be issued regarding the conduct of another attorney, including opposing counsel.

Questions should relate to future conduct. Generally, the Legal Ethics Counsel will not give an opinion regarding conduct that has already occurred.

Requesting an Oral Informal Advisory Opinion

An attorney requesting an oral informal advisory opinion should call personally or have another attorney within the firm call. The Legal Ethics Counsel does not issue advisory opinions to nonattorneys. To request an oral informal opinion, call the Legal Ethics Counsel at 573-638-2263 and inform the person who answers that you are a Missouri attorney and you are calling for an informal opinion. You will need to provide your name and bar number.. This office is not staffed as a hotline. As a result, it is often several days and sometimes more than a week before a call is returned. If an attorney has specific time constraints related to the ethical question, the attorney should explain those time constraints when leaving a message.

Requesting a Written Informal Advisory Opinion

Most questions can be answered over the telephone. Questions should be in writing under three circumstances:

  1. when the question is complex or the quantity of information is large,
  2. when the ethical question is new or presents an entirely new twist, or
  3. when the requesting attorney needs a response in writing. This need can often be met through confirmatory letters, which is usually a much quicker process.

An attorney requesting a written informal advisory opinion should allow up to a month to receive an answer. If the request is truly urgent, the attorney should explain the reason for the urgency in the opening paragraph of the letter.

  • The letter should contain specific facts but initials or other designations should be used instead of specific names.
  • The letter should be concise but must contain all facts upon which the opinion will be based. Additional or different facts could change the conclusion reached in any opinion.
  • The letter must indicate that the person requesting the opinion is the attorney, or a member of the firm, whose conduct is in question. Informal opinions will not e given regarding the conduct of an attorney or firm other than the one requesting the opinion.
  • The request must relate to future conduct rather than conduct which has already occurred.

An informal advisory opinion does not affect the authority of a judge to rule on an issue pending before the judge. It also does not affect the authority of other officials, such as the Attorney General, prosecuting attorney, or Chief Disciplinary Counsel. If a complaint or report is filed with the Chief Disciplinary Counsel regarding the matter, it may be necessary for the Chief Disciplinary Counsel to investigate the complaint or report and determine the facts, independently.

A summary of a request and answer may be published. Although the actual request must be specific, the summary will be generalized. Only summaries are available.

To request a written informal opinion, write: Legal Ethics Counsel, 217 E. McCarty, Jefferson City, MO 65101. Fax: 573-635-8806.