Naming your practice can be a puzzling process for many new attorneys seeking to start their own firms. There are ethical concerns, not to mention business interests, to be mindful of before selecting a moniker for your practice.
In order to pick the right one, avoid these five naming mistakes:
1. Misusing '& Associates'
The ethical rules in most jurisdictions track the American Bar Association's Model Rules 7.1 and 7.5. Model Rule 7.1 requires that communications concerning a lawyer's services may not be false or misleading.
That means if you're the only attorney in your practice, you can't go around using "Bob Bobbington & Associates" on your website, letterhead, or any other communications. Even if you have a large support staff, including paralegals and legal secretaries, if you're the only one licensed to practice law, don't use "& Associates."
2. 'Law Office' v. 'Law Offices'
Same thing goes for calling your practice the "Law Offices of Bob Bobbington" if you only have one office. This isn't a contest to make your firm the grandest sounding in the land, you just need to be honest in naming. One office = "law office of..." More than one office = "law offices..."
3. Using Public Officials' Names
This may have been easier to remedy on "The Good Wife," but firms generally should avoid using the name of a lawyer holding public office if he or she is not actively practicing at the firm. This shouldn't be a problem with many new attorneys, but check your local rules of ethics to avoid confusing the public and getting your new firm in trouble.
4. Trade Names
Calling your firm the "Boston Personal Injury Experts" is a great marketing tool, but you should be careful with the ethical rules surrounding trade names. For example, Florida requires any firm who calls itself a "legal clinic" or "legal services" to actually provide lower rates for routine legal fees than the "prevailing rate in the community."
5. Domain Name/Website
Just because your stationary and email signatures all comply with your state's rules of professional conduct doesn't mean a firm website is safe from naming mistakes. According to the North Carolina State Bar Journal, if your domain name is wildly different than your firm's name, you may need to register it with your state bar as a trade name.
Just like with naming rules in other forums, domain names and even names on websites should not be false or misleading. Seek to be informative, clear, and descriptive in your practice's name, and you should win clients and avoid discipline.
If you need advice regarding firm names, consider consulting with a local ethics defense attorney.
Have a few naming suggestions of your own? Tweet us @FindLawLP.
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