I would like an opinion as to the position that the New York County Lawyers’ Association takes in connection with firm names in the practice of law, where there is not a living partner.
Local custom in New York City permits the continued use of the names of deceased partners in partnership titles, notwithstanding that new partners are added to the firm after the death of the deceased partner, and it is the position of this Committee that such use is not improper provided deception is not thereby practiced and any applicable provisions of law are complied with.
Canon 33 provides, in part, that:
“In the formation of partnerships and the use of partnership names care should be taken not to violate any law, custom, or rule of court locally applicable, * * * In the selection and use of a firm name, no false, misleading, assumed or trade name should be used. The continued use of the name of a deceased or former partner, when permissible by local custom, is not unethical, but care should be taken that no imposition or deception is practiced through this use.”
In New York County Lawyers’ Association Opinion 316, it was stated
“It is not unusual in New York City for the law firms to continue the use in their partnership names of the names of deceased former partners, even through a succession of firms with new members. In general, this is not deemed in the profession or in the community to be fraught with imposition or deception * * *. Where the practice is not condemned by law, or is not inconsistent with local custom, or where conditions imposed by law for the continued use of the names of deceased or former partners are complied with, the Committee does not consider that the continued use of such names is professionally improper”.
To the same effect, see: New York State Bar Association Opinions No, 45 (23-66) and No. 2 (2-64).
The rationale was set forth in American Bar Association Opinion 267:
“The reason for this is that all of the partners have by their joint and several efforts over a period of years contributed to the good will attached to the firm name. In the case of a firm having widespread connections, this good will is disturbed by a change in firm name every time a name partner dies, and that reflects a loss in some degree of the good will to the building up of which the surviving partners have contributed their time, skill and labor through a period of years. To avoid this loss the firm name is continued and to meet the requirements of the Canon the individuals constituting the firm from time to time are listed.”
The opinions cited do not specifically refer to cases where none of the persons named in the firm title is alive, but they would appear to apply with equal effect to such a situation.
April 10, 1968.