Posted by: johnocunningham | March 21, 2013

New Jersey Says “Yes” to Trade Names for Law Firms: What’s Next?

On March 14, New Jersey Supreme Court rejected the long-established notion that law firm monikers must be composed of the name or names of lawyers in the firm.

Justice Jaynee LaVecchia issued the opinion for a unanimous court in The Matter of a Letter Decision of the Committee on Attorney Advertising (Docket no. 47-2007) amending New Jersey Rule of Professional Conduct 7.5 to permit a law firm trade name, so long as it describes the nature of the legal practice in terms that are “accurate, descriptive and informative, but not misleading, comparative or suggestive of the ability to obtain results.”

The legal entity involved in the case was actually the Alpha Center for Divorce Mediation, a group of lawyers and support personnel engaged in divorce mediation services; and the court ruled that this particular trade name was permissible, but for the word “Alpha,” which could connote superiority or imply that the firm was the first of its kind.

The court also called for the formation of a special committee by the bar to address the introduction of trade names into the community. LaVecchia suggested that the committee should develop rules that are consistent with the guidance provided by the court, noting that “Best Tax Lawyers” or “Tax Fixers” should not be permitted law firm names under this guidance.

Once the new rules on law firm trade names have been officially formulated, the resulting controversies presented to the New Jersey Committee on Attorney Advertising could get pretty interesting, and maybe even professionally amusing.

Clearly, nobody will be able to argue in favor of “The Championship Law Firm LLC” or “The Winners,” and “Guaranteed Results LLP” will not fly either.

But what about “Quick and Easy Lawyers” or the “Clients First Law Firm?” Those names don’t imply any result, but they make an implied promise of the client service experience. Or how about “Low-Price Lawyers”? That might not be misleading if the firm actually prices itself by comparison, but it would be comparative on price (not results). One can envision the use of a trade name, such as “The Rapid Response Law Firm.” The name would not explicitly be suggestive of ability to obtain results, and it would be comparative as to skills, but it could imply some kind of comparison to other firms on service times.

Some firms might also try to stake out industry niche names, such as “The Financial Services Law Firm” or “The Technology Law Firm.” Those terms might be accurate and descriptive without implying results, but are they impermissibly touting some form of “expertise” or “specialization” that other rules prohibit?

In any event, I expect that this new approach will not open a floodgate for mega-firm name changes. There will be no “Ye Olde Law Firme” for an established firm that is hundreds of years old, and no “Mega-Gigantor Inc.” for super-sized firms.

Got a good firm trade name idea? Feel free to comment on it.

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Responses

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