< Back
What’s in a name? Rules for Firm Names and Letterheads
Post on May 9th, 2024

This week we continue our discussion of the Ohio Rules of Professional Conduct Section VII. Information about Legal Services by looking at Prof.Cond.R. 7.5 Firm Names and Letterhead. OBLIC’s Loss Prevention Hotline often gets questions on the topic of law firm names including use of trade names and use of a retired or deceased partner’s name. 

This rule begins with a reference to Prof.Cond.R. 7.1, which we reviewed last week, that a lawyer in private practice shall not practice under a name that is misleading. Prof.Cond.R. 7.5 then requires that the name of a professional corporation or association, legal clinic, limited liability company, or limited liability partnership shall contain symbols (“descriptive designation”) indicating the nature of the organization as required by Gov. Bar R. III.  

Prof.Cond.R. 7.5 was amended to allow the use of a trade name as a law firm name. Trade names used by law firms must not be misleading in compliance with Prof.Cond.R. 7.1. It is very important to note that if a law firm intends to be formally identified by the use of a trade name and practice as a legal professional association, corporation, or legal clinic, a limited liability company, or a limited liability partnership, the trade name must comply with Gov.Bar R. III, §2. This means that 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 the appropriate descriptive designation such as Co., LLC, or LLP. See Opinion 2020-11 Trade Name Used as a Law Firm Name

OBLIC frequently addresses questions about firms operating using a “DBA” name. While “Doing Business As” or “DBA” is not a recognized filing by the Ohio Secretary of State, the Secretary of State website advises that a trade name registration or report of the use of a fictitious name can be filed, which would be similar to a “DBA.”   

As firms transition, the Rule permits a firm to continue to include in its name, if otherwise lawful, the surname of one or more deceased or retired members of the firm or of a predecessor firm in a continuing line of succession. This may be a consideration in law firm succession planning as Comment [1] notes it is misleading to use the name of a lawyer not associated with the firm or a predecessor of the firm or the name of a nonlawyer. 

Several situations discussed in Opinion 2020-07 Use of Surname of Retiring or Inactive Lawyer in Law Firm Name and Letterhead allow a law firm to:

  • continue to list on its letterhead the name of a lawyer registered with the Supreme Court as “retired” or “inactive” if the name of the lawyer is designated with his or her registration status, and
  • continue to include in its firm name, the surname of lawyer who has retired from the firm and later becomes “of counsel” to the firm. But note: a lawyer granted “retired” or “inactive” registration status may not serve as “of counsel” with any law firm.  

The Rule provides that if a law firm with offices in more than one jurisdiction lists attorneys associated with the firm, the firm must indicate the jurisdictional limitation on those not licensed in Ohio.  Comment [1] also states that a lawyer or law firm may be designated by a distinctive website address or comparable professional designation. Jurisdictional limitations should also be noted on websites. 

The Rule prohibits the name of a lawyer holding public office from being used in the name of a law firm during any substantial period in which the lawyer is not actively and regularly practicing with the firm. See Ohio Ethics Guide Transition From the Practice of Law to the Bench.   

Lastly, the Rule says that lawyers may state or imply they practice in a partnership or other organization only when that is the fact. Comment [2] clarifies that disclaimers that the entity is “not a partnership” won’t work. Space sharing lawyers should read Opinion 2022-11 Lawyers Sharing Office Space, Nonlawyer Staff, and Dividing Fees. 

While OBLIC is not the “ethics police,” when we become aware of potential ethical issues with firm names or letterhead, we try to inform our insureds to help avoid negative situations. If you have any questions about firm names or letterhead, please contact us. We’re happy to talk with you and direct you to an ethics consult if needed.

Gretchen K. Mote, Esq.
Director of Loss Prevention
Ohio Bar Liability Insurance Co.
Direct:  614.572.0620
[email protected]
Merisa K. Bowers, Esq.
Loss Prevention Counsel
Ohio Bar Liability Insurance Co.
Direct:  614.859.2978
[email protected]


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.