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Ethics Advisory Opinions
UPON THE REQUEST OF A MEMBER OF THE SOUTH CAROLINA BAR, THE ETHICS ADVISORY COMMITTEE HAS RENDERED THIS OPINION ON THE ETHICAL PROPRIETY OF THE INQUIRER’S CONTEMPLATED CONDUCT. THIS COMMITTEE HAS NO DISCIPLINARY AUTHORITY. LAWYER DISCIPLINE IS ADMINISTERED SOLELY BY THE SOUTH CAROLINA SUPREME COURT THROUGH ITS COMMISSION ON LAWYER CONDUCT.

Ethics Advisory Opinion 07-05
South Carolina Bar Ethics Advisory Opinion 07-05


SC Rules of Professional Conduct: 7.1, 7.5

Date: July 19, 2007

Facts

Lawyer Jane Smith marries Mr. Doe and adds his last name to hers so that she becomes Jane Smith Doe (not hyphenated). As a lawyer, she signs all her documents “Jane Smith Doe.” She becomes a shareholder in her firm (a Professional Association in a small town) and the firm name is changed to “Jones, Johns, and Doe.” Jane Smith Doe and Mr. Doe divorce after 10 years of marriage. However, she retains the name Doe, since she has become known professionally by that name and, to date, has practiced with the firm for more than 23 years. Eventually, she remarries, to Bill Roe. She is contemplating changing her name to “Jane Smith Roe.”

Questions

1. Is it permissible for Jane to change her name to Jane Smith Roe but go by Jane Smith professionally and Jane Smith Roe in her private life?
2. Is it permissible for the law firm to maintain the name “Jones, Johns, and Doe,” even if Jane Smith no longer uses the name “Doe?”

Summary

1. A lawyer may use different professional and private names.
2. The law firm may maintain a lawyer’s former name as part of the firm name.

Opinion

An individual lawyer may use a name of his or her own choice, and may change a name by usage, providing it does not otherwise violate any Rules of Professional Conduct. A lawyer may use different professional and private, or “social,” names.

Comment 1 of Rule 7.5 permits the use of a trade name. Jones, Johns, and Doe is a continuing firm. If the lawyers intend for “Jones, Johns, and Doe” to be a trade name, Lawyer Doe is still a shareholder and has not changed status with the firm, and the ongoing use of the firm name would not violate Rule 7.1 or 7.5, then it is not misleading to maintain the current name.

Rule 7.5 is intended to protect the public from law firm names which violate Rule 7.1, in particular, the requirement that “a lawyer shall not make false, misleading, deceptive, or unfair communications about the lawyer….” The lawyer must correct any misunderstanding should there be any chance that a client might be confused or misled.

It is the Committee’s opinion that the law firm in question may continue to use the name “Jones, Johns, and Doe” as a trade name, even if Lawyer Doe now uses a different last name.