What’s in a name? Everything, it seems …

Question: Are there ethical rules pertaining to the use of “associates” and “affiliates” in a law firm name; it’s my understanding that “associates” refers to associate attorneys within the firm and “affiliates” indicates a firm which outsources or refers some of its cases to independent law firms.

In the case at hand, the primary attorney (the firm is currently called “The Law Firm of ‘John Doe’, Esq.”) is planning to retire in a few years and wants to increase the good will value of the firm name; he’s concerned that a practice in the name of a sole practitioner will not yield a high sale price.

Answer: In CA and some other states, the rules of professional conduct provide that one cannot use a word in the title of a law firm that is not true. Thus, using the name “John Doe & Associates” is not permissible when there is only one lawyer in the firm.

Be sure to check with your ethics folks before going too far in the establishment of your firm name.


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