State Bar of Arizona Ethics Opinions

91-09: Advertising; Trade Names
4/1991

Proposed law firm name, "ABCD Law Center" held a trade name.



FACTS:

The inquiring attorney’s law firm proposes to use the name “ABCD Law Center,” the letters of which stand for the partners’ initials.
 

QUESTION:

Does the name "ABCD Law Center" constitute a trade name that is prohibited by ER 7.5(a) of Rule 42, Rules of the Supreme Court of Arizona?
 

ETHICAL RULE INVOLVED:

ER 7.5. Firm Names and Letterheads

(a) A lawyer shall not use a firm name, letterhead or other professional designation that violates ER 7.1. A trade name may not be used by a lawyer in private practice.

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Comment to ER 7.5: A firm may be designated by the names of all or some of its members, or by the names of deceased members where there has been a continuing succession in the firm’s identity. Trade names may not be used.
 

OPINION:

Black’s Law Dictionary (5th ed. 1979) (at p. 1339) defines a trade name as “any designation which (a) is adopted and used by person to denominate goods which he markets, or services which he renders, or business which he conducts, or has come to be so used by others, and (b) through its association with such goods, services or business, has acquired a special significance as the name thereof . . .”

This definition of a trade name is very broad and applies to any designation beyond a simple listing of the names of the attorneys actually practicing with the law firm. This conclusion is supported by the Comment to ER 7.5, which states that a firm may be designated by the names of some or all of its members. Some exceptions to this Rule have been carved out in the Comment; for example, firm names that do not list all of the attorneys practicing in a law firm are permissible, as are firm names that list deceased members where there has been a continuing line of succession in the firm’s identity. However, these appear to be limited exceptions to the strict general rule. In our Opinion No. 90-01, we determined that it was ethically proper for a lawyer to use the name “[Lawyer] and Associates.” Specifically, we concluded that “[this name] is not a trade name and is not improper or misleading..., provided that the employing lawyer's name is included in the firm name and that the lawyer does employ one or more other lawyers to assist him in his practice” (emphasis added). Opinion No. 90-01 at 3.

Therefore, a key issue appears to be whether at least one lawyer’s name is included in the firm name. Although the proposed name, “ABCD Law Center,“ contains the initials of some of the firm members, this does not provide sufficient identification of the firm members to keep the name from constituting a trade name prohibited by ER 7.5(a).

We accordingly conclude that “ABCD Law Center” is a trade name, and as such is in violation of ER 7.5(a).



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