OBLIC commonly receives questions about law firm name requirements and restrictions. In Ohio, law firm naming conventions have been regulated through the Ohio Rules of Professional Conduct, Rule 7.5: Firm Names and Letterheads.
Changes in the Rule
This Rule was amended effective June 17, 2020 to remove the prior prohibition of practicing under a trade name, subject to the continued prohibition on misleading firm names. The Rule continues to address “of counsel” relationships, office sharing, inclusion of names of lawyers in public service, and the necessity of including the business entity designation in the firm name.
It is not immediately clear how these amendments and rule changes will be interpreted and enforced, particularly given the continued prohibition on the use of firm names that are false, misleading or nonverifiable (Rule 7.1). Comment  removed the prohibition of geographical or other types of identification and descriptions from firm names. Rule 7.1 remains applicable, however, in that the firm name must not be false, misleading or nonverifiable. With these rule amendments, it appears that accurate, verifiable law firm trade names that would not have been allowed in the past, may now be permissible.
Additional Firm Name Questions
Including retired or deceased lawyers in a firm name is a common issue considered by law firms. As noted in Comment  of Rule 7.5, 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.
- If the attorney retires from the firm and retains active registration status, the attorney should be noted as “Retired from the Firm.”
- If the attorney retires from the firm and takes inactive registration status, the attorney should be noted as “Inactive.”
- If the attorney retires from the firm and takes retired registration status, the attorney should be noted as “Retired.” See Gov Bar R VI, Section 11(D). Remember that Retired registration status is IRREVOCABLE!
It is important to note that a lawyer who was a partner in the firm and then becomes “Of Counsel” may continue to be listed in the firm name. However, a lawyer who joins the firm as “Of Counsel” may not be included in the firm name. See Ohio Board of Professional Conduct Opinion 2008-1 and Opinion 2014-4. Rule 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.” Including such an “Of Counsel” lawyer in the name of the firm would imply a partner or member relationship in violation of Rule 7.5(d).
Lawyers sharing office space, but who are not associated in the same firm, may not denominate themselves as a firm. Using a disclaimer such as “not a partnership” doesn’t make it permissible to use the names of the lawyers together in a firm name. See Rule 7.5(d), Comment .
The name of a lawyer holding public office cannot be used in a law firm name during any period when that lawyer is not actively practicing with the firm. This most often occurs when a lawyer becomes a judge. See Ohio Ethics Guide: Transition From the Practice of Law to the Bench.
Another common question is whether the law firm organized as a professional corporation or association, legal clinic, limited liability company, or limited liability partnership must include the applicable symbols such as LPA or LLC after its firm name. Rule 7.5 requires that the name of a law firm organized as one of these entities must contain the symbols indicating the nature of the organization as required by Rule III of the Ohio Rules for the Government of the Bar.
Gov. Bar R. III further requires that the name of a legal professional association or legal clinic shall end with, “Co., LPA” or indicate “A Legal Professional Association.” The name of a corporation, limited liability company, or limited liability partnership shall include the designations required by Ohio Revised Code Sections 1701.05(A), 1705.05(A), or 1776.82.
Best Practices: Firm Name
- Do not use any firm name that is false, misleading or nonverifiable.
- Use surnames of one or more lawyers with the firm
- Trade names may now be allowed (but subject to all other limitations)
- Use required business entity abbreviations
- Appropriately list retired or deceased lawyers
- Do not use firm names that imply you are a firm of multiple attorneys when you are only a solo practitioner or sharing office space, e.g., “Surname & Associates.”
As always, if you have any questions about firm names and letterheads, please feel free to call us at OBLIC. We are here to help!
Gretchen K Mote, Esq.
Director of Loss Prevention