Digest: A lawyer may not practice
under a law firm name that consists only of the lawyer’s
1. The inquirer is the only lawyer and only
employee of a new law firm. Since the lawyer believes that
his last name is long [John Doesmith-Roesmith], he wishes to call the
law firm by his initials [JDR Law].
2. Can a lawyer ethically practice under a
law firm name that consists only of the lawyer’s
3. Rule 7.5(b) of the New York Rules of
Professional Conduct provides that a “lawyer in private practice
shall not practice under a trade name. . .” This rule
serves to protect the public from being deceived as to the identity,
responsibility or status of those who use the firm name.
See N.Y. State 732 (2000) (applying trade name prohibition in
former Code of Professional Responsibility).
4. In N.Y. State 740 (2001) the Committee
opined that “[u]sing a name that is not the legal name of one or
more partners or former partners in the law firm constitutes the use of
a trade name” within the meaning of the prohibition in the Code of
Professional Responsibility. As the Committee noted in N.Y.
State 869 (2011):
“The prohibition against trade names is broad,
permitting use of little beyond the names of lawyers presently or
previously associated with the firm. As an indication of this
breadth, other parts of Rule 7.5(b) create exceptions allowing a firm
name to include the names of deceased or retired partners or requiring
firms to add terms such as ‘PC,’ ‘LLC,’ or
‘LLP’ only in specified circumstances, suggesting that
absent those circumstances, such names or terms might create
impermissible trade names.”
In N.Y. State 861 (2011)
the Committee opined that the New York office of an out-of-state firm
could not use the firm name XYZ Firm where X, Y, and Z were the first
letters of the firm’s practice areas even if the firm name was
ethical in the other state.
5. Because the lawyer’s initials do
not constitute the lawyer’s legal name, they would constitute a
trade name, and therefore the lawyer is prohibited from practicing under
that name. Accord Arizona Opinion 91-09
6. We note, however, that language or a
name that is impermissible as a trade name may be permissible as a firm
“motto.” SeeIn re von Wiegen,
63 N.Y.2d 163, 176-77 (1984) (finding that “The Country
Lawyer” used underneath the firm name was a permissible motto
rather than an impermissible trade name); N.Y. State 636 (1992)
(permitting the name “The Will Store” as a motto in
conjunction with the name or names of one or more lawyer principals but
not standing alone).
7. A lawyer may not practice under a law
firm name that consists only of the lawyer’s initials.