Wednesday, September 26, 2007
Are There Any Doctors or Associates in the House is a very interesting September 2007 Your ABA E-News Web publication about lawyers can use the term doctor. As it turns out, the answer is not entirely clear. This article reports that State Bar Associations are actually split over whether lawyers can refer to themselves as "Dr." or "Doctor." As the article states:
State bar opinions are split over whether a lawyer may refer to himself as “Dr.” or “Doctor”. See Maher, Lawyers Are Doctors, Too 92 ABAJ 24 (2006). The analysis usually turns on whether the issuing ethics committee determines that the use of the term would be false or misleading under their state version of Rule 7.1 Communications Concerning a Lawyer’s Services of the ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct. Rule 7.1 states:
A lawyer shall not make a false or misleading communication about the lawyer or the lawyer's services. A communication is false or misleading if it contains a material misrepresentation of fact or law, or omits a fact necessary to make the statement considered as a whole not materially misleading.
The Ethics Committee of the Texas Supreme Court issued opinion 550 (2004) on this topic in which it withdrew an earlier opinion that had prohibited lawyers from referring to themselves as “Doctor” or “Dr.” and concluded:
The Committee is of the opinion that under the Rules the use of the title "Dr.," "Doctor," "J.D." or "Doctor of Jurisprudence" is not, in itself, prohibited as constituting a false or misleading communication. The Committee recognizes that other professions, such as educators, economists and social scientists, traditionally use title "Dr." in their professional names to denote a level of advanced education and not to imply formal medical training. There is no reason in these circumstances to prohibit lawyers with a Juris Doctor or Doctor of Jurisprudence degree from indicating the advanced level of their education.
However, while use of the title alone is generally permitted, the context in which the title is used may cause use of the title to be a false or misleading communication. For example, a lawyer otherwise qualified to use the title of "Dr." who advertises as "Dr. John Doe" in a public advertisement for legal services in connection with medical malpractice or other areas involving specialized medical issues may be making a misleading statement as to the lawyer's qualifications and may be creating an unjustified expectation about results the lawyer can achieve. Unless accompanied by an appropriate, prominent statement of qualifications and disclaimers, such use of the title "Dr." could readily mislead prospective clients and thus violate the Rules. Compare Comment 2 to Rule 7.02.
I personally believe that it is inappropriate for J.D.'s to use the term doctor. This is because there are further advanced legal degrees, to wit L.L.M's and S.J.D. degrees. Perhaps, the holder of S.J.D. degree should be able to refer to himself as a doctor since that is the terminal degree in law. As with all legal rules, an attorney considering using the term doctor, should research state law with respect to this issue.
Mitchell H. Rubinstein