Ethics Opinions

Opinion No. 75-10

Summary: A law firm may practice under a firm name which consists of the names of two former partners, both now deceased, if the present firm is a direct successor to a firm known by that name for many years, although the firm has practiced under other names in the immediate past.

Facts: A law firm was established around 1900 and operated under various names until the 1930s, when it became known as "A & B." In 1955 the name was changed to "A, B & C," and in 1956 the firm name became "A, B, C & D," and later "C, D, B, A & E." In 1973 the name was changed to "D, A, E, F & G." In 1974 D withdrew from the firm and the name was changed to "A, E, F & G." Now E and F intend to withdraw from the firm and the firm proposes to revert to the use of the name "A & B." A died in 1955 and B died in 1968. As indicated by this history, the name of A has been a part of the firm name continuously since the original "A & B," but the name of B has been absent from the firm name since 1973.

Discussion: Disciplinary Rule DR 2-102(B) provides in relevant part that
A lawyer in private practice shall not practice under a trade name, a name that is misleading as to the identity of the lawyer or lawyers practicing under such name, or a firm name containing names other than those of one or more of the lawyers in the firm, except that ... if otherwise lawful a firm may use as, or continue to include in, its name the name or names of one or more deceased or retired members of the firm or of a predecessor firm in a continuing line of succession.

We assume that the use of the name "A & B" is not intended to deceive or to suggest an affiliation which does not exist.
The proposed reversion to use of the name "A & B" appears to be within the literal reading of DR 2-102(B), in that the law firm will "... use as ... its name the ... names of one or more deceased ... members of the firm or of a predecessor firm in a continuing line of succession."
If the firm never had been known as "A & B" in the past, the adoption of that name for the first time after the death of both A and B might raise ethical problems, but we see no violation of DR 2-102(B) in reverting to use of a name by which the firm was known for many years.
Many eminent law firms in Massachusetts and elsewhere are engaged in practice under the names of former partners now long deceased. The fact that the name of B was absent from the firm name during the years 1973-1975 should not preclude restoration of the name "B" to the firm name after such a relatively brief period of absence, where the firm was known as "A & B" for approximately 20 years and the names of A and B appeared together in the firm name for about 35 years.

Permission to publish granted by the Board of Delegates, 1975. As stated in the Rules of the Committee on Professional Ethics, this advice is that of a committee without official governmental status.
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