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OBA Ethics Counsel

Ethics Opinion No. 288

Adopted November 21, 1975

INQUIRY

May a lawyer who employes [sic] one or more other lawyers properly practice under a name which uses the term "Associates" following his own name?

OPINION

The applicable Disciplinary Rule is DR 2-102(B), which is, in pertinent part, as follows:

"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 the name of a professional corporation or professional association may contain 'P.C.' or 'P.A.' or similar symbols indicating the nature of the organization, and 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."

Under the predecessor of this provision (Canon 33), Advisory Opinion No. 183 (July 13, 1955) of the Oklahoma Bar Association (appearing in the Advisory Opinions Supplement to Okla. Decisions 341-43 P.2d, at 150) held that the use of the name "John Doe and Associates" would be improper. However, the authorities cited in support of this conclusion have since been clarified and to some extent superseded by American Bar Association (ABA) Formal Opinion 318 (July 3, 1967), supplementing ABA Formal Opinion 310 (June 20, 1963). Opinion 318 (Part III) holds that "the use of the term 'associates' following the name of one or more members of a professional corporation or association is a proper method of indicating the limited responsibility of the members of such an organization."

The present status of the question thus appears to be as follows, under ABA Opinions 310 and 318:

1. "John Doe and Associates" is not proper if the organization has any partners (or owners, in the case of a professional corporation) other than John Doe, because the term "associates" implies the professionals so designated are employees, not partners or owners.

2. "John Doe and Associates" may be used where a sole practitioner employs other attorneys to conduct a portion of his legal business.

3. "Doe & Roe and Associates" may be used where the only partners (or owners) are Doe and Roe, but they employ other lawyers to assist in carrying on the firm's business. If there are additional partners (or owners), the use of this form would be misleading unless the letterhead clearly indicates all of the partners and, separately, the names of the associates.

Subject to compliance by lawyers with the foregoing guidelines, Oklahoma Advisory Opinion No. 183 is hereby superseded.