Ethics Opinion

Opinion No. 79-10

October 1979

Summary: An attorney may not permissibly use the term "specialist" or "specializing" on his letterhead, brochures about the firm, and office signs. The attorney may, however, otherwise use such media to indicate that his practice is limited to a certain substantive area.

Facts: Attorney A inquires if, in light of various changes made in Supreme Judicial Court Rule 3:22, effective July 1, 1979, he may revise his letterhead, brochures about the firm, and office signs to include these words:
(1) "Specializing in Legal Problems Related to Computers;"
(2) "Legal Problems Relating to Computers;"
(3) "Practice Concentrates on Legal Problems Relating to Computers;"
(4) "Concentrating on Legal Problems Relating to Computers;" or
(5) A variation thereof, conveying the idea that "we specialize in legal problems related to computers, either in words or symbols, such as a graphic design reflecting computers and law."
Attorney A concentrates on legal problems relating to computers in his practice.

Discussion: Effective July 1, 1979, DR 2-101, 2-102 and 2-103 prohibit the use of any form of public communication "containing a deceptive statement or claim." Since A concentrates in his practice on legal problems relating to computers, such a letterhead, brochure, or office sign would, of course, not violate any of the above-cited Disciplinary Rules.
However, DR 2-105(A) specifically provides that:
(A) A lawyer shall not hold himself out publicly as, or imply that he is, a recognized or certified specialist, except for ... (Emphasis added.)
The three exceptions consist of two long recognized specialties, trademark practice and admiralty practice, and attorneys admitted to practice before the United States Patent Office.
DR 2-105(B) provides:
(B) A statement, announcement, or other holding out as limiting practice to a particular area or field of law or as concentrating practice to one or more areas or fields of law does not constitute a violation of DR 2-105(A) if the statement, announcement, or holding out does not include a deceptive statement or claim.
We believe that reading these two provisions together precludes the use of the term "specialist" and the related words "specialize" or "specializing" as Attorney A has proposed. In reaching this conclusion we are fortified by the history of the development of DR 2-105. Unlike some other jurisdictions the Supreme Judicial Court has not adopted any specialization proposals.
We believe that the use of the term specialist in DR 2-105(A) precludes suggestions 1 and 5, set forth above. On the other hand, DR 2-105(B) clearly permits proposals 2-4, inclusive, since Attomey A in fact concentrates on legal problems relating to computers.

Permission to publish granted by the Board of Delegates, 1979. As stated in thc Rules of the Committee on Professional Ethics, this advice is that of a committee without official governmental status.