Opinion 529

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QUESTION
May a lawyer practice law under a trade name that includes words in addition to the names of one or more lawyers who practice with (or previously practiced with) the firm? For example, may a lawyer practice under firm names such as ΑThe Legal Clinic of John Doe,≅ ΑJane Doe Trial Lawyers,≅ ΑDiscount Legal Services of Jones and Doe,≅ and ΑDoe and Jones Lawmart≅?

DISCUSSION
Rule 7.01(a) sets forth the basic rule with respect to the name under which a lawyer may practice (all references to ΑRules≅ in this opinion are to the Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct):

(a) A lawyer in private practice shall not practice under a trade name, a name that is misleading as to the identity of the lawyer or lawyers practicing under such name, or a firm name containing names other than those of one or more of the lawyers in the firm, except that the names of a professional corporation, professional association, limited liability partnership, or professional limited liability company may contain ΑP.C.,≅ ΑP.A.,≅ ΑL.L.P.,≅ ΑP.L.L.C.,≅ or similar symbols indicating the nature of the organization, and if otherwise lawful a 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 firm or of a predecessor firm in a continuing line of succession. Nothing herein shall prohibit a married woman from practicing under her maiden name.

Rule 7.01(f) requires that ΑA lawyer shall not use a firm name, letterhead, or other professional designation that violates Rule 7.02(a).≅ Rule 7.02(a) provides in part that ΑA lawyer shall not make a false or misleading communication about the qualifications or the services of any lawyer or firm. Ψ≅

Comments 1 and 4 to Rule 7.01 set forth the following explanations for the Rules limiting the names under which lawyers may practice:
1. A lawyer or law firm may not practice law using a name that is misleading as to the identity of the lawyers practicing under such name, but the continued use of the name of a deceased or retired member of the firm or of a predecessor firm is not considered to be misleading. Trade names are generally considered inherently misleading. Ψ
4. With certain limited exceptions, paragraph (a) forbids a lawyer from using a trade name or fictitious name Ψ. In a largely overlapping measure, paragraph (f) forbids the use of any such name or designation if it would amount to a Αfalse or misleading communication≅ under Rule 7.02(a).

The Rules quoted above allow a lawyer to practice under a firm name that contains names of one or more lawyers who practice, or have practiced, with the law firm together with words or symbols to indicate the nature of the organization or the fact that the firm provides legal services (rather than some other service or product). Thus, for a law firm composed of Ms. Jones, Mr. Smith, and Ms. Doe, permissible firm names would include ΑJones, Smith & Doe,≅ ΑJones, Smith & Doe, P.C.,≅ and ΑLaw Offices of Jones, Smith & Doe.≅

However, in the opinion of the committee, a law firm name that claims or implies any quality for the firm beyond the fact that the firm renders legal services is a trade name in violation of Rule 7.01(a). Such a name is also prohibited by Rules 7.01(f) and 7.02(a) as misleading communication because words in a trade name claiming or implying qualities of a firm=s legal services necessarily would be incomplete and would not be subject to verification on an ongoing basis. Thus, law firm names such as ΑThe Legal Clinic of John Doe,≅ ΑJane Doe Trial Lawyers,≅ ΑDiscount Legal Services of Jones and Doe,≅ and ΑDoe and Jones Lawmart≅ are trade names prohibited by the Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct.

Professional Ethics Committee Opinion 398 (Texas Bar Journal, July 1979, p. 610), which addressed related questions under the Texas Code of Professional Responsibility (effective until Jan. 1, 1990), is superseded by this opinion.

CONCLUSION
Under the Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct, a lawyer may not practice law under a trade name that includes, in addition to permitted names of lawyers, words that claim or imply qualities for the law firm beyond the fact that the firm provides.

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