Over my 25+ years of working with law firms on business development, addressing the issue of law firm names is not really one of my favorites—because it rarely comes without some painful internal issues to address.
There are the firms that want to drop the second, third or fourth names (if you have more, you’ve got a real problem) from the law firm name—usually just in regard to branding and the logo (and the website, e-mail address and social media accounts), while keeping the full “legal name” intact. It is easier when those names are for attorneys that are deceased (sorry to say), because it is a lot tougher when the lawyer whose name is coming off the signage is still sitting right there.
There is also the name change due to attorney partner fluctuation—someone leaves, another joins (and expects to see his/her name on the door as well). Those changes to a firm name create all sorts of havoc, as almost every aspect of the firm—from business cards and letterhead to signage and domain names needs to be completely reworked. I had to do this three times for one small firm before convincing them to stick to the one/first name on the door—who was certainly not going anywhere.
Finally, there are the problems that can surround the use of trade names for your law firm. First, making sure the trade name is acceptable and not a violation of state bar ethics rules. Second, making sure that the state or states that are relevant (typically, based on office locations, or new offices in new states via a law firm merger) allow trade names to begin with. But those obstacles are changing quickly.
It is the potential hurdles put up by the Rules of Professional Conduct (RPC) that are the core issues I address in Taking Names: Eased Ethical Considerations Increase Firm Name Options, in the November 2020 edition of the American Bar Association’s Law Practice Today webzine. I address the relevant portions of the RPC when it comes to law firm names, the impact of the internet on naming law firms, differentiating between a law firm name and a name used for marketing purposes, jurisdictional boundaries, and recent lawsuits challenging the law firm trade name ban in a few remaining states.
Once again, I’m pleased to have two of the committees I’m appointed to collaborate on an outstanding Ethics-themed issue of Law Practice Today, serving as the issue editor (and Associate Editor of the publication) while gathering articles from colleagues on the Ethics & Professionalism Committee of the ABA’s Law Practice Division. The annual Ethics issue of LPT routinely provides substantive articles and topics from leading ethics attorneys in the U.S.
Among the excellent articles in this month’s LPT is Ethical Implications When Outsourcing Legal Work from Cozen’s Bill Gericke and Tom Wilkinson; Arizona and Utah Jumpstart Legal Regulatory Reform by Art Lachman and Jan Jacobowitz; IOLTA Accounts—Ignorance is Potential Discipline from Dan Siegel; and Cybersecurity for Attorneys: The Ethics of Incident Response by Dave Ries. Thanks to Bill, Tom, Art, Jan, Dan and Dave for addressing timely ethics issues for the LPT audience. The ABA’s Law Practice Today webzine is accessible by all at www.lawpracticetoday.org. The e-mail digest highlighting articles is sent to all ABA members (that are opted into e-mail) on or about the 15th of each month.