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This office consists of five attorneys each of whom conduct their individual practices and each of whom have varying relationships with two members of the office who may be designated as “senior members”. The three “non-senior” members of our office, in addition to conducting their individual practices, are associated with the senior members on either a quantum meruit, percentage or other equitable basis of compensation. In addition, the two senior members (who are not partners) participate with each other, from time to time, on varying matters.
Therefore, as indicated, there is a good degree of participation and relationship among the various members of the office although each member maintains a separate identity and continues to practice independently.
The specific inquiry relative to which an opinion is requested, is as follows:
Upon a consideration of all of the foregoing, would an office letterhead, in the fashion hereinafter outlined, be acceptable and proper for use in connection with those matters upon which two or more members of the office are associated. The contemplated form is as follows:
Charles Counselor; etc., listing in order,
each attorney in the office.
Would the foregoing form of letterhead connote the existence of a partnership between the associates?
Secondly, would the opinion of the Committee be different if the names of the two senior members were listed one above the other in larger type than or with a line or other separation distinguishing such members of the office from the other three members? Would such a variation connote the existence of a partnership between the two senior members?
Canon 33 states that in the selection and use of a firm name no misleading name should be used. This cautionary provision has been cited in condemnation of the use of a name which suggests the existence of a partnership when in fact there is none (opinion 607 of the Committee on Professional Ethics of the Association of the Bar of the City of New York). On the other hand, Canon 27 permits publication in reputable law lists of the lawyer’s name “and the names of his professional associates”. In this latter connection, the word “associates” probably means something other than partners and professional employees.
In the opinion of the Committee, the form of letterhead suggested in the first inquiry is permissible under the Canons of Ethics and does not connote a partnership. This conclusion is predicated on the following:
(a) That first names be used in each case.
(b) That no distinction be indicated between any of the names by way of different type, separation, use of a line or otherwise.
(c) That neither the word “and” nor the symbol “&” appear between any of the names.
In the absence of any one of the factors listed above, the Committee would disapprove of the suggested letterhead in that it might well mislead a layman, if not a lawyer, into believing he was receiving the benefit of the services of any or all of the individuals named even as though they were partners, which they are not. In addition, it is the opinion of the Committee that it would be preferable, although not essential, to list the names in alphabetical order as indicated in the question as presented.
It follows that the Committee disapproves the second form of letterhead suggested.
November 17, 1960.