Rule 7.10 Firm Names and Letterhead

(a) False, Misleading, or Deceptive. A lawyer or law firm shall not use a firm name, logo, letterhead, professional designation, trade name or service mark that violates the provisions of these Rules.

(b) Trade Names. A lawyer or law firm shall not practice under a trade name that implies a connection with a government agency, public or charitable services organization or other professional association, that implies that the firm is something other than a private law firm, or that is otherwise in violation of subdivision (c)(1) of Rule 7.2.

(c) Advertising Under Trade Name. A lawyer shall not advertise under a trade or fictitious name, except that a lawyer who actually practices under a trade name as authorized by subdivision (b) may use that name in advertisements. A lawyer who advertises under a trade or fictitious name shall be in violation of this Rule unless the same name is the law firm name that appears on the lawyer’s letterhead, business cards, office sign, and fee contracts, and appears with the lawyer’s signature on pleadings and other legal documents.

(d) Law Firm with Offices in More Than One Jurisdiction. A law firm with offices in more than one jurisdiction may use the same name in each jurisdiction, but identification of the lawyers in an office of the firm shall indicate the jurisdictional limitations on those not licensed to practice in any jurisdiction where an office is located.

(e) Name of Public Officer or Former Member in Firm Name. The name of a lawyer holding a public office or formerly associated with a firm shall not be used in the name of a law firm, on its letterhead, or in any communications on its behalf, during any substantial period in which the lawyer is not actively and regularly practicing with the firm.

(f) Partnerships and Organizational Business Entities. Lawyers may state or imply that they practice in a partnership or other organizational business entity only when that is the fact.

(g) Deceased or Retired Members of Law Firm. If otherwise lawful and permitted under these Rules, a law firm may use as, or continue to include in, its name, the name or names of one or more deceased or retired members of the law firm, or of a predecessor firm in a continuing line of succession.

Background

The Louisiana Supreme Court adopted this rule on June 26, 2008, as amended June 4, 2009 and June 30, 2009. It became effective on October 1, 2009. This rule is based on ABA Model Rule of Professional Conduct 7.5. However, there are several differences between this rule and Model Rule 7.5.

  1. First, Louisiana Rule 7.10(a) itemizes more types of professional designations that must conform with the Rules than does Model Rule 7.5. Compare La. Rules of Prof’l Conduct R. 7.10(a) (2009) (“firm name, logo, letterhead, professional designation, trade name or trademark”) and Model Rules of Prof’l Conduct R. 7.5(a) (“firm name, letterhead or other professional designation”).
  2. Second, Louisiana Rule 7.10, unlike the corresponding Model Rule 7.5, prohibits a lawyer from using a trade name that implies a connection not only to a government agency, public services organization or charity, but also to any “other professional association.” La. Rules of Prof’l Conduct R. 7.10(a) (2009).
  3. Third, Louisiana Rule 7.10(c), unlike the corresponding Model Rule, prohibits a lawyer from using a “trade or fictitious name” unless the lawyer also uses that name on all other documents such as letterheads, fee contracts and pleadings. See id.
  4. Fourth, paragraph (e) of the Louisiana Rule, unlike Model Rule 7.5, prohibits a firm from using the name of a “formerly associated” lawyer “during any substantial period in which the lawyer is not actively and regularly practicing with the firm,” unless the lawyer has died or retired. See Louisiana Rule 7.10(g) (permitting a firm to use the name of a deceased or retired former firm member). La. Rules of Prof’l Conduct R. 7.10(g) (2009); see also ABA Comm. on Ethics and Prof’l Responsibility, Informal Op. 85-1511 (1985) (interpreting ABA rules to reach the same result).

ABA Model Rule 7.5

(a) A lawyer shall not use a firm name, letterhead or other professional designation that violates Rule 7.1. A trade name may be used by a lawyer in private practice if it does not imply a connection with a government agency or with a public or charitable legal services organization and is not otherwise in violation of Rule 7.1.

(b) A law firm with offices in more than one jurisdiction may use the same name or other professional designation in each jurisdiction, but identification of the lawyers in an office of the firm shall indicate the jurisdictional limitations on those not licensed to practice in the jurisdiction where the office is located.

(c) The name of a lawyer holding a public office shall not be used in the name of a law firm, or in communications on its behalf, during any substantial period in which the lawyer is not actively and regularly practicing with the firm.

(d) Lawyers may state or imply that they practice in a partnership or other organization only when that is the fact.

Comments to ABA Model Rule 7.5

[1] A firm may be designated by the names of all or some of its members, by the names of deceased members where there has been a continuing succession in the firm’s identity or by a trade name such as the “ABC Legal Clinic.” A lawyer or law firm may also be designated by a distinctive website address or comparable professional designation. Although the United States Supreme Court has held that legislation may prohibit the use of trade names in professional practice, use of such names in law practice is acceptable so long as it is not misleading. If a private firm uses a trade name that includes a geographical name such as “Springfield Legal Clinic,” an express disclaimer that it is a public legal aid agency may be required to avoid a misleading implication. It may be observed that any firm name including the name of a deceased partner is, strictly speaking, a trade name. The use of such names to designate law firms has proven a useful means of identification. However, it is misleading to use the name of a lawyer not associated with the firm or a predecessor of the firm, or the name of a nonlawyer.

[2] With regard to paragraph (d), lawyers sharing office facilities, but who are not in fact associated with each other in a law firm, may not denominate themselves as, for example, “Smith and Jones,” for that title suggests that they are practicing law together in a firm.

Annotations

Firm Names

Lawyers may not use a firm name, logo, letterhead or other professional designation that violates these rules. See La. Rules of Prof’l Conduct R. 7.10(a) (2009). Most obviously, this rule requires that any professional designation must not be “false, misleading, or deceptive.” Id. Rule 7.10(a). Furthermore, a firm may not use a name that implies a connection with a governmental, public, charitable or professional organization. Id. Rule 7.10(a). Finally, a lawyer who uses a trade name must not attempt to use it selectively; rather, the lawyer must use it on all business cards, office signs, pleadings and the like. Id.

Identifying an Association With Other Lawyers

A lawyer may not falsely imply an association with another lawyer or organization. La. Rules of Prof’l Conduct R. 7.10(f) (2009). Thus, for example, a lawyer practicing alone may not name his firm “Smith & Associates.” Furthermore, a lawyer merely sharing office space with another must not share letterhead that implies the existence of a partnership.

A lawyer who is not a partner or an associate of a law firm may be designated “of counsel,” “special counsel,” “senior attorney,” or “senior counsel,” under appropriate circumstances. Such a designation is appropriate when the lawyer so designated is, for example, a part-time lawyer, a retired partner who remains available for consultation with practicing members of the firm, or a tenured lawyer below the rank of partner. See ABA Comm. on Ethics and Prof’l Responsibility, Formal Op. 90-357 (1990); see also ABA Comm. on Ethics and Prof’l Responsibility, Informal Op. 84-1506 (1984).

Formerly Associated Lawyers

This rule prohibits a firm from using a name that suggests a continuing association between the firm and any formerly-associated lawyer who is not actively and regularly practicing with the firm. La. Rules of Prof’l Conduct Rule 7.10(e) (2009). Under this rule, it is irrelevant whether the lawyer in question became “formerly associated” because the lawyer changed firms or because he or she assumed public office. However, if a lawyer becomes “formerly associated” through retirement or death, the firm may continue to use the lawyer’s name thereafter. See id. Rule 7.10(g).

Multistate Firms

A firm with an office in another state may use the names of out-of-state lawyers in the firm name. However, any identification of the lawyers in an office–in firm letterhead or otherwise–must note the jurisdictional limitations on those not licensed to practice where the office is located. La. Rules of Prof’l Conduct Rule 7.10(d) (2009); see also Singer Hutner Levine Seeman & Stuart v. La. State Bar Ass’n, 378 So. 2d 423, 426 (La. 1979).

Disciplinary Sanctions

Absent aggravating or mitigating circumstances, the following sanctions are generally appropriate in cases involving violations of Rule 7.10: disbarment, when the lawyer knowingly engages in conduct that is a violation of a duty owed to the profession with the intent to obtain a benefit for the lawyer or another, and causes serious or potentially serious injury to a client, the public, or the legal system; suspension, when the lawyer knowingly engages in conduct that is a violation of a duty owed to the profession, and causes injury or potential injury to a client, the public, or the legal system; reprimand, when the lawyer negligently engages in conduct that is a violation of a duty owed to the profession, and causes injury or potential injury to a client, the public, or the legal system; and, admonition, when the lawyer engages in an isolated instance of negligence that is a violation of a duty owed to the profession, and causes little or no actual or potential injury to a client, the public or the legal system. See ABA Stds. for Imposing Lawyer Sanctions stds. 7.0-7.4 (1986).

Notes

This page was updated on August 7, 2013.