February 18, 2010
A Rose By Any Other Name...
From the web page of the Ohio Supreme Court:
The Supreme Court of Ohio’s Board of Commissioners on Grievances & Discipline has issued an advisory opinion concerning the inclusion of an area of practice or specialization in a law firm name.
Opinion 2010-1 addresses the following question: “Is it proper for a lawyer to name a law firm the lawyer’s surname followed by the words Intellectual Property or the initials IP as an abbreviation for intellectual property?”
The opinion finds that naming a law firm in this way is improper. Professional Conduct and Supreme Court rules “do not authorize the inclusion of an area of practice or specialization in a law firm name and Prof. Cond. Rule 7.5 specifically does not allow a trade name,” the opinion states.
The opinion also noted that Supreme Court rules require that the name of a law firm formed under a corporate structure must include the “proper descriptive designation required by law such as LLC or LLP.”
This link should take you to the opinion. The most pertinent U.S.Supreme Court precedent on the state bar's regulatory authority over letterhead designations is ARDC v. Peel, linked here. (Mike Frisch)
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Just curious, Mike, about what you think of that ruling. Would a firm name "Smith IP Lawyers" be coercive or fraudulent if they really do practice IP law? I can't imagine the constitutional basis for that ruling, but then again a lot of the states get away with restrictions that don't seem to square up with the commercial speech rights of lawyers.
Posted by: John Steele | Feb 18, 2010 6:39:00 AM
I've taken a look at the Ohio rules on letterhead designations and the most pertinent Supreme Court precedent--ARDC v. Peel, 496 U.S. 91. It seems to me that Ohio's Rule 7.4 and this ethics opinion might well not survive a Constitutional challenge. You are quite correct that there are some state regulatory provisions in this area (see, for example, Iowa) that stay on the books because there are disincentives (including cost) to fighting a state bar on these issues.
Posted by: Mike Frisch | Feb 20, 2010 5:27:47 AM