Ethics Advisory Opinion 75-01
A law firm may use or continue to include in its name the name of a deceased partner of the firm, or of a predecessor firm in a continuing line of succession. If one or more members withdraw from the firm, they have no right to use the name of the deceased partner; however, the continuing partners could continue to use the deceased partner's name.
Attorney A, B and C were practicing as partners under the firm name of A, B, and C. Several years ago Partner A passed away and Partners B and C continued to practice under the name of A, B, and C. Subsequent to the death of Partner A, the firm hired Attorney D who later became a partner but the name of the firm was not changed, continuing to operate as A, B and C.
Recently, Partners C and D advised Partner B that they desired to terminate their partnership with Attorney B. Attorney B declined to withdraw from the firm and consequently the firm was dissolved.
Unfortunately, there was no partnership agreement. At the time of the dissolution, Partners B and C owned almost all the firm's assets on a 50-50 basis with Partner D having a nominal interest therein.
Out of respect to the memory of Attorney A, Partners C and D wished to retain his name in the name of the firm, operating under the name of "A, C and D". The letterhead would, of course, reflect the fact that Attorney A was deceased. Attorney A's widow has expressed a desire that Attorneys C and D retain the use of her husband's name.
Attorney B has asserted no claim to the use of Attorney A's name, but at the same time does not feel he can agree that Attorneys C and D are entitled to its use.
Can Attorneys C and D properly operate under the firm name of "A, C and D"?
This question is apparently controlled by Section EC 2-11 of Canon 2 which reads in part ...for many years some law firms have used a firm name retaining one or more names of deceased or retired partners and such practice is not improper if the firm is a bona fide successor of a firm in which the deceased or retired person was a member, if the use of the name is authorized by law or by contract, and if the public is not misled thereby, Disciplinary Rule DR 2-102, subparagraph (B) reads in part:
...if otherwise lawful a firm may use as or continue to include in, its name the names or names of one or more deceased or retired members of the firm or of a predecessor firm in a continuing line of succession...
The reversion to the use of the firm name of A, C and D would mislead the general public and such use of the name is a privilege available only to the firm. Had B merely withdrawn from the firm, the remaining members who continue the firm might have continued to use the name of A as a former member of the firm. But, after his death, the firm consisted of B, C and D and when B refused to withdraw, the partnership was dissolved and the firm ceased to exist. Hence, C and D's use of the firm name A, C and D would not be in accord with the facts, is misleading and deceptive and accordingly, improper."