On June 18, 2020, New York amended its advertising rules to permit lawyers to advertise their services under a trade or domain name. The revised rule now prohibits only “names that are false, deceptive or misleading.” See New York Rules of Professional Conduct, r. 7.5. The rule also provides guidance for lawyers in selecting proper law firm names. See New York Court System’s Administrative Board Approves Two Rule Changes Governing the Professional Conduct of NY Attorneys, New York State Unified Court System, June 18, 2020.
Louisiana Rules on Trade Names
New York now joins many other jurisdictions which permit law firms to advertise under trade names. Louisiana permits lawyers to use a firm name, logo, letterhead or other professional designation so long as that name does not violate the Rules of Professional Conduct. See La. Rules of Prof’l Conduct r. 7.10(a). Most obviously, this rule requires that any professional designation must not be “false, misleading, or deceptive.” Id. r. 7.10(a). Furthermore, a firm may not use a name that implies a connection with a governmental, public, charitable, or professional organization. Id. r. 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.
According to a 2007 Louisiana State Bar Association advisory opinion, the Rules of Professional Conduct Committee does not believe the Louisiana rules permit lawyers to advertise under two tradenames at the same time. According to the Committee, “simultaneous use of multiple business identities by a lawyer or law firm in connection with the practice of law” can cause public confusion. See LASB Public Op. 07-RPCC-012 at 8. The Committee opined that the rules do not permit lawyers to adverse under two trade names at the same time:
An identifying name used by a lawyer in connection with the practice of law, whether it is a conventional firm name or a fictitious or trade name, may be used if it otherwise complies with the Louisiana Rules of Professional Conduct and the same name is used consistently and exclusively by that lawyer on all communications concerning the practice of law. A lawyer may not use multiple business identities simultaneously in connection with the practice of law, regardless of whether those identities utilize a conventional firm name or include a fictitious or trade name.
Id. at 1.
According to the committee, the use of a single, consistent business identity in connection with the practice of law is necessary in order to avoid confusion, risk of deception, or risk of misleading others in connection with the lawyer’s dealings with the public, clients, potential clients, other lawyers, judges and the legal system in general. Id. at 8.
Importantly, however, the Rules of Professional Conduct do not prohibit Louisiana lawyers from advertising under two trade names. Such prohibits could infringe on the Louisiana lawyer’s right to engage in commercial speech. See generally Public Citizen Inc. v. La. Att’y Disciplibary Bd., 632 F. 3d 212 (5th Cir. 2011). Instead, the Louisiana Rules of Professional Conduct require that lawyers disclose to the public if they use more than two tradenames in their practice of law. Under Rule 7.10, a lawyer must not advertise under a trade or fictitious name unless that 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. See La. Rules of Prof’l Conduct, r. 7.10(c). The Rule’s requirement that the trade names are disclosed consistently on all identifying and legal documents functions to prevent public confusion about the lawyer’s identity for conflicts purposes.
In conclusion, if a Louisiana lawyer uses or advertises under a trade name, the lawyer must use the same name on a lawyer’s letterhead, business cards, office sign, and fee contracts, and appears with the lawyer’s signature on pleadings and other legal documents. If not, the lawyer could be in violation of the Louisiana Rules of Professional Conduct. Despite this, the lawyer can alleviate this potential problem by disclosing the trade names on all identifying and legal documents.