Behind the Logo: Law Firm Sponsorship of Athletes

by: Mickey Ingles (Photo from Happy Gilmore)

Golf and law fans (yes, there are golf fans and yes, there are law fans) will be excited to know that a PGA golfer has been sponsored by an American law firm. Veteran pro William McGirt inked a 2-year sponsorship deal with law firm Cozen O’Connor. You can read more about the deal here, but it looks pretty snazzy—in exchange for an undisclosed amount, the law firm will not only have its logo on McGirt’s shirt during PGA tour events but its also entitled to meet-and-greets with McGirt.

Imagine the pull you can get with potential clients when you tell them they can actually get golf tips from a PGA veteran. I’d sign up—and I haven’t touched a golf club since my wife (then girlfriend) beat me handily in mini-golf in 2004.

Me if only I didn’t suck at golf.

This got me thinking: if this were to happen in the Philippines, will this be allowed? Can a Philippine law firm sponsor a professional athlete or even a sports team?

Just think about it, a Philippine Basketball Association team sponsored by a Philippine law firm. The possibilities are endless. And so are the nicknames. If anyone can tell me a catchier team name than the Tender Juicy Hotdogs, then I’m a monkey’s uncle (an idiom I never really understood but always found funny).

But I’m getting ahead of myself. The biggest issue facing a law firm looking to sponsor a professional athlete in the Philippines isn’t legal; it’s ethical.

I can actually see the scorn in your face and hear you as your inner voice says, “Whut? Lawyers are ethical? Stop pulling my legs [sic]!” I’ll give you five seconds to get it out of your system. Five… four… three… two… one…

Let’s move on, then. Yes, lawyers have an ethical code to follow. It’s called the Code of Professional Responsibility or the CPR. And Canon 3 of the CPR is relevant to our problem. It states, “A lawyer in making known his legal services shall use only true, honest, fair, dignified and objective information or statement of facts.” Rule 2.03 of the CPR further states, “A lawyer shall not do or permit to be done any act designed primarily to solicit legal business.”

In a nutshell, lawyers aren’t allowed to advertise their legal services. Why? Well, because the practice of law is a profession and not a business.[1] If we lawyers were allowed to advertise our skills, we would be commercializing and degrading our noble calling, degrading it.[2] We are here to serve—goshdarnit!—not make money of other people’s problems (I can see you frowning in disbelief again! Stop it!).

A law firm that sponsors an athlete or a team may be running into rough ethical waters because a strict court may view this as an act “designed primarily to solicit legal business.” If ethics precludes Philippine lawyers from having fancy-schmancy business cards (one of the reasons I don’t have a French Bulldog-themed business card),[3] it’s not a far cry for the Supreme Court to see the next Frankie Miñoza wearing the logo of a big law firm as unethical.

Who’ll sponsor this guy, though?

I have always wondered though how the Supreme Court would treat a free speech argument in favor of lawyer/law firm advertising. If a business’ advertising is protected commercial speech, why not a law firm’s? Can an ethical canon trump (ugh) free speech? And isn’t the ghost of an equal protection clause violation lurking underneath?

And what of the free speech rights of the athlete? I imagine if ever the Supreme Court does say that a law firm is in breach of its ethical duties by having its logo on an athlete’s uniform, it can’t go as far as prohibiting the athlete from voluntarily wearing or keeping the logo on his or her shirt. If the Court allowed citizens to stick election campaign paraphernalia on their cars based on free speech,[4] an athlete should be allowed to have a law firm logo on his jersey as well if he voluntarily chooses to do so.

Heck, there’s nothing stopping an athlete from tattooing the face of the partner of his favorite law firm on his bicep if he wants to. That’s how free speech works. Ink now, regret later.

That’s the current landscape of Philippine legal ethics. We are centuries away from our TV screens being filled with lawyer commercials—and that’s not necessarily a bad thing, the legal profession is, contrary to your frowning, is a noble profession. The restriction isn’t necessarily a good thing either, there are free speech implications as I just mentioned. (And there are entertainment considerations as well. Do yourself a favor and watch the commercials of the Texas Law Hawk. You’ll thank me later.)

It’ll be an interesting test case if ever it does happen.

With that said, our Ateneo Football League team needs a sponsor…

Mickey Ingles is the editor-in-chief of Batas Sportiva. He’s a big Happy Gilmore fan.

[1] Linsangan v. Atty. Tolentino, A.C. No. 6672, September 4, 2009.

[2] Id.

[3] Ulep v. Legal Clinic, B.M. No. 553, June 17, 1993.

[4] 1-United Transport Koalisyon v. Commission on Elections, G.R. No. 206020, April 14, 2015.


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