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OBA Ethics Counsel

Ethics Opinion No. 277

Adopted March 22, 1974 (Supersedes Opinion No. 247)

INQUIRY

1. May an earned degree such as the LL.B., J.D., LL.M. or S.J.D. degrees, indicating training in the law, be reflected by a lawyer's letterhead, professional card and office sign, and be placed following the lawyer's name on the signature line of his correspondence?

2. May an attorney holding the Juris Doctor (J.D.) degree, or the Master of Laws (LL. M.), Doctor of Juridical Science (S.J.D.) or other earned graduate law degree, use and permit others to use the title "Doctor" in reference to himself?

OPINION

We are of the opinion that the answers to both of the questions presented should be in the affirmative.

Disciplinary Rule 2_102(F) of the Code of Professional Responsibility is as follows:

"Nothing contained herein shall prohibit a lawyer from using or permitting the use, in connection with his name, an earned degree, or title derived therefrom indicating his training in the law."

In interpreting this proviso, the Standing Committee on Ethics and Professional Responsibility of the American Bar Association in Informal Opinion 1151 (2/25/70) held that "J.D." or "Juris Doctor" may be used on an attorney's professional stationery and cards, that "J.D." can be placed after his name on the signature line of his correspondence, and that he may use and permit others to use the title "Doctor" in reference to himself. In Informal Opinion 1152 (2/25/70), the same committee further held that the holder of an LL.M. degree is entitled to the use of the term "Doctor," since it is a more advanced degree than the J.D. Informal Opinion 1247 (10/18/72) by that committee held that more than one earned degree or title derived therefrom indicating training in the law may be shown and used, but not earned degree or titles which do not indicate training in the law.

This Committee recognizes that its Advisory Opinion No. 247, 38 Okla. Bar J. 1131 (adopted 5/11/67), reached a contrary conclusion, as did Opinion 321 of the ABA Committee on Professional Ethics (adopted March 1, 1969). However, these opinions rendered under the old Canons of Ethics have been superseded by the adoption in Oklahoma of the Code of Professional Responsibility effective January 1, 1970, and particularly DR 2_102 (F) quoted above.

The Committee cautions, however, that when a lawyer's originally granted LL.B. degree has been formally superseded by a subsequently-granted J.D. (an action many law schools are now taking, at the request of their LL.B. degree holders), both degrees may not be shown. Furthermore, degrees not indicating training in the law (e. g., A.B., M.A., Ph.D.) may not be shown, and non-earned or honorary degrees (such as the "Doctor of Laws" (LL.D.) degree) may not be shown.

It would seem to be technically inaccurate for the holder of an LL.B. degree to refer to himself as "Doctor," but no more so than use of that term by the holder of an LL.M. degree who does not also hold a J.D., since LL.B. and J.D. degrees are equally advanced.