Should lawyers be able to flex their creative muscles when naming their law firms, or should attorneys be forced to follow the standard Law Offices of Partner A & Partner B model?
The Model Rules of Professional Conduct allow the use of trade names by law firms. The only requirement is that the name 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, prohibiting false or misleading communications.
However, several states across the country still take a more restrictive approach. For instance, New Jersey’s Rules of Professional Conduct mandate that the name under which a New Jersey lawyer or law firm practices include “the full or last names of one or more of the lawyers in the firm or office or the names of a person or persons who have ceased to be associated with the firm through death or retirement.” Ohio, Iowa and Texas have similar requirements.
As legal branding via the Internet and social media becomes more important, it is not surprising that law firms are ramping up their efforts to challenge these rules in order to gain greater flexibility in marketing their services. The Alpha Center for Divorce Mediation is currently testing the waters in New Jersey.
The New Jersey law firm has asked the New Jersey Supreme Court to weigh in on the Committee on Attorney Advertising’s opinion that the use of a trade name is not permitted under the state’s Rules of Professional Conduct The committee further concluded that the law should not be amended to permit such names, although a proposal is currently under consideration that would allow a combination of trade name and partner names.
Oral arguments in the case were held earlier this month. As detailed by the New Jersey Law Journal, the firm argued that the prohibition against trade names violates the First Amendment’s free speech guarantees. Alpha Center’s name is “accurate, descriptive and informative and is not false, deceptive or misleading,” the firm’s attorney stated. “The current RPC imposes unconstitutional restrictions. The name does not imply any promise of results. The state has to provide evidence that people have been misled.”
Despite the arguments raised and the fact that trade names are allowed in 37 states, it may be an uphill battle. The New Jersey State Bar Association is against changing the rules, and many of the justices seemed to be concerned regarding where to draw the line. “What about ’18 Personal Injury Lawyers?’” asked Justice Barry Albin.