Naming Your Law Firm

There is plenty of advice out there on how to name your law practice.

LawLytics suggests your name should convey trustworthiness, prestige, and experience. This post from Above the Law pokes a bit of fun at the prototypical ampersand law firms: A, B, C, D & E LLP.  Lawyerist reminds us there are ethical and state regulatory considerations. Yes, indeed!  More on that below!  And I love the fact that WikiHow actually has an entry entitled “4 Ways to Choose a Law Firm Name.” (While the graphics are off-putting, it’s actually an okay read.)

Let me bottom-line it for you: there are times when lawyers can benefit by taking advice from the business world, and this is one of those times.

What’s in a name?

Moving on ……..

What are the dos and don’ts in selecting a name?

The best advice I found was on Findlaw.  A little ironic, since it was written by lawyers for potential business clients, but good is good.  Here is a summary:

  • Make your name descriptive.
  • Say it out loud: how does it sound?
  • What does it look like?  What kind of visual impact will it make on business cards and other materials?
  • Is it easy to understand?
  • Is it unique enough? (Also a legal requirement. Your choice must be “distinguishable upon the record.”)
  • Does it pass the abbreviation and acronym test?  (Make sure the shortened version of your name doesn’t spell out something embarrassing.)
  • Consider the meaning of your name in other languages if relevant to your practice.
  • Avoid names that are too long.
  • Avoid trendy names, since trends come and go.
  • Don’t imply by the name that your practice is somehow affiliated with or approved by a branch of the government. (Also an ethical requirement.)
  • Run your proposed name by family members and friends.

Read the complete post here.  For a chronological list of the steps involved in choosing a business name, see this resource sheet, also on Findlaw.

Assumed business name requirements in Oregon

If you’re an Oregon lawyer you should be proud of our Secretary of State (SOS) website. It really does a good job of educating businesses and providing information.  Assumed business names (ABNs) or what us old-school types call DBAs (doing business as) is no exception.  Here is exactly what you need to know about ABNs in Oregon.  Even better is this graphic, which comes from a PDF brochure on the SOS website:

abns

The ethics of naming your practice

Oregon RPC 7.5(c)(1) prohibits a lawyer from practicing under a name that is misleading as to the identity of the lawyers practicing under the name or that contains names other than those of lawyers in the firm. Oregon RPC 7.5(e) prohibits lawyers from holding themselves out as practicing in a law firm unless the lawyers are actually members of the firm.  This means:

  • Don’t append “and associates” to your firm name unless you actually have associates (staff don’t count).
  • Don’t use the firm name Smith, Jones, & Taylor if you are solo practitioners sharing office space and not practicing together as firm members.
  • Avoid adding “Law Group” to your name unless are two or more lawyers in the firm (staff don’t count).
  • Nonlawyer names are not permitted as part of the firm name.  You may list nonlawyers on letterhead if the nonlawyer’s status is clearly identified.  For example, if your legal assistant is Alyssa Jones, you may list her on your letterhead head as:

Alyssa Jones
Legal Assistant

Lawyers are also prohibited from using trade names that suggest a connection with government or with a public or charitable legal services organization.

Historical firm names and multi-jurisdictional practice

Using names of deceased or retired lawyers is permitted.  Multi-jurisdictional firms can use the same name in both jurisdictions, “so long as the letterhead listing of firm members indicates the jurisdictional limits of those not authorized in the jurisdiction where the office is located.”  See What’s In a Name: Things to consider before hanging that shingle.

Statutory requirements for PCs, LLCs, and LLPs

If you form a PC, LLC, or LLP, then the terms professional corporation, limited liability company, limited liability partnership or their respective abbreviations must appear as part of the firm’s name. ORS 67.625(1); ORS 58.115; ORS 63.094(1).

What about domain names?

Oregon does not have an ethics opinion specifically addressing the use of domain names.  Other jurisdictions do.  Arizona forbids domain names that imply a special competency or affiliation that is not factually true.  Ohio prohibits domain names that are misleading or claim a specialization.  New York and New Jersey are very particular in their rules.  California doesn’t have a straight-off statement on the subject, but has issued an opinion stating that the rules that apply to “communication” and “advertising” apply to websites.  Presumably this includes domain names.  Kentucky, North Carolina, South Carolina, Oklahoma Texas, and Virginia have also chimed in on this topic.

Oregon lawyers are advised “to be mindful of the overarching prohibition against misleading communications” when selecting a domain name.  That seems like pretty good advice to me.

All Rights Reserved Beverly Michaelis 2017

Precautions for Paperless Practitioners

Did you happen to notice the new ethics opinion issued in September 2016?  You aren’t alone, but don’t worry.  Let’s get caught up.

ethics-photo

OSB Formal Opinion 2016-191 addresses a lawyer’s ethical responsibilities in keeping paperless client files and disposing of client property.

Everything Old is New Again

Nigh on eight years ago, I gave some advice on this subject:

  • Inform clients of your digital storage practices.  Explain how you will provide documents to current clients in the regular course of business and in the event a former client requests a complete copy of his or her file.
  • Update your fee agreement and engagement letters to reflect your file policies and procedures.
  • Be prepared to provide clients with a copy of their digital file in a format they can access.  [This may mean physically printing the file.]
  • Establish a retention policy for your digital files.
  • Use security measures to protect client records.
  • Take steps to ensure that documents stored electronically cannot be inadvertently modified or destroyed.
  • Backup, backup, backup!
  • Review the Professional Liability Fund (PLF) practice aid, Checklist for Imaging Client Files and Disposing of Original Documents. This checklist has since been renamed Checklist for Scanning Client Files.  It points out that certain papers should not be discarded after scanning. Examples include any document whose authenticity could be disputed, those with particular legal importance, or documents that only have value or enforceability as a piece of paper.  It also admonishes that original client property cannot be destroyed without consent.

See Beverly Michaelis, “Is It Time to Go Paper-Less?” PLF In Brief (February 2009), available on the PLF website.

What Does the Oregon State Bar Say?

OSB Formal Opinion 2016-191 reinforces my earlier advice:

First, there is no ethical prohibition against maintaining the “client file” solely in electronic or paperless form. But this doesn’t mean your ethical duties are thrown out the window.

Lawyers must safeguard client property, maintain confidentiality of information, and ensure availability of electronic file documents. This means:

  • Taking reasonable steps to ensure the security of electronic-only files.
  • Protecting against destruction of original client documents without the client’s express consent.
  • Retaining records for appropriate time periods, including following the completion of the matter or termination of representation.
  • Considering whether an electronic-only file might present a hardship for clients who need to access and work with the documents in paper form.

Lawyers must also communicate with the client regarding the terms of the representation and relevant developments affecting the representation:

  • The opinion suggests entering into reasonable agreements regarding how you will maintain client files during and after the conclusion of a matter. [Yes, please!]
  • You should also confirm that converting your closed paper file to electronic-only documents does not violate the terms of your retention agreement with the client.

If you use cloud-based solutions for storage of electronic-only files, re-read OSB Formal Opinion 2011-188 or see this post.

All Rights Reserved Beverly Michaelis 2017.

It feels good to be right.  Chalk one up for me 🙂