This is part of our continuing series to share with you answers to questions we frequently receive from policyholders. Questions related to law firm names and letterhead often arise from:
- Retirement of attorneys
- Of counsel relationships
- Rebranding a law firm using a trade name
Retirement of an attorney from a law firm presents several issues and the inclusion of retired or deceased lawyers in a firm name is a common issue considered by law firms. Comment  of Rule 7.5 provides that a firm may use the names of all or some of its members or the names of deceased members where there is a continuing succession in the firm’s identity. The names and dates of predecessor firms in a continuing line of succession may be listed on the firm letterhead. However, the firm cannot use the name of a lawyer not associated with the firm or a predecessor firm or the name of a nonlawyer.
How a retired attorney is listed on law firm letterhead depends on whether the attorney will maintain active status or take inactive or retired status.
- If an attorney retires from the firm and retains active registration status, the attorney should be listed as “Retired from the Firm.”
- If an attorney retires from the firm and takes inactive registration status, the attorney should be listed as “Inactive.”
- If an attorney retires from the firm and takes retired registration status, the attorney should be listed as “Retired.” See Gov Bar R VI, Section 11(D). Remember that Retired registration status is IRREVOCABLE!
- See also Ohio Board of Professional Conduct Opinion 2020-07
Of Counsel relationships can also be tricky. Prof. Cond. R. 7.5, Comment  defines “Of Counsel” as a lawyer other than a partner or associate who has a continuing relationship with a lawyer or law firm. A lawyer retiring from a law firm, and maintaining an “active” registration status, may become “of counsel” to the firm as long as the lawyer maintains a continuing and close, regular, personal relationship with the firm.
A lawyer who was a partner in a law firm and then becomes “Of Counsel” to that firm may continue to be listed in the firm name. However, a lawyer who joins a law firm as “Of Counsel” may not be included in the firm name. A lawyer with “inactive” or “retired” registration status may not serve as “of counsel” with any law firm. See Ohio Board of Professional Conduct Opinion 2008-1, Opinion 2014-4 and Opinion 2020-07.
Rebranding the firm using a trade name can present opportunities and challenges. Prof. Cond. R. 7.5 was amended effective June 17, 2020 to remove the prohibition for practicing under a trade name. A law firm trade name does not have to include the name or surname of the lawyer or describe the legal services provided. The trade name must still comply with Prof. Cond. R. 7.1 and Prof. Cond. R. 7.2 and not be false, misleading or nonverifiable. Ohio Board of Professional Conduct Opinion 2020-11 includes examples of trade names.
The requirements of Gov. Bar R. III, §2 and Prof. Cond. R. 7.5 must be met for any law firm organized as a legal professional corporation or association, legal clinic, limited liability company, or limited liability partnership. If a law firm plans to be formally identified by the trade name and practices as one of these entities the trade name must comply with Gov.Bar R. III, §2. and Prof.Cond.R. 7.5. That means the trade name of a legal professional association or legal clinic must end with the legend, “Co., LPA” and the name of a corporation, limited liability company, or limited liability partnership must include a descriptive designation as required under Ohio Revised Code Sections 1701.05(A), 1705.05(A)*(*See R.C. §1706.07), or 1776.82, e.g., L.L.C., L.L.P., or Inc. See Ohio Board of Professional Conduct Opinion 2020-11.
We are happy to talk with you to discuss your specific questions and, if necessary, provide an ethics consult with outside ethics counsel.
|Gretchen K. Mote, Esq.
Director of Loss Prevention
Ohio Bar Liability Insurance Co.
|Merisa K. Bowers, Esq.
Loss Prevention Counsel
Ohio Bar Liability Insurance Co.
Other OBLIC resources:
Considering an “Of Counsel” Relationship
Common Questions: Firm Names Following Amendment of Rule 7.5
Hotline Questions – Retirement Registration Status
This information is made available solely for loss prevention purposes, which may include claim prevention techniques designed to minimize the likelihood of incurring a claim for legal malpractice. This information does not establish, report, or create the standard of care for attorneys. The material is not a complete analysis of the topic and should not be construed as providing legal advice. Please conduct your own appropriate legal research in this area. If you have questions about this email’s content and are an OBLIC policyholder, please contact us using the information above.