Opinion Number 576
I am a member of the Association and would appreciate your opinion on the following:
A & B formed a law partnership under the firm name of “A & B” in 1963. A few days ago “A” died. The partnership was automatically dissolved as of that date, The surviving partner B has not acquired a new partner.
Question 1: May B continue to use the partnership name of “A & B” in legal papers involved in litigation and other legal affairs, and on letterheads bearing the notation “(1906-1969)” alongside the name of A.
Question 2. Is B required to notify the clients of the partnership of the death of A
Question 3. Does B have to secure new retainers from the clients of the partnership in respect to legal matters pending and unresolved on the date of “A”‘s demise.
Question 4. If B forms a partnership with C may that new law firm use the name of “A, B & C”, with the same legend on the letterhead as noted in Question 1.
ABA DR 2-102 (B) provides in part:
“ . . . . . if otherwise lawful a firm may use as, or continue to include in its name the name or narr.es of one or more deceased or retired members of the firm or of a predecessor firm in a continuing line of succession.”
ABA Ethical Consideration EC 2-11 states 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.”
This is an extension of former ABA Canon 33 which sanctioned the continued use of the name of a deceased partner “when permissible by local custom.”
In New York, it has long been accepted custom to continue the use of the name of a deceased partner even through a succession of firms with the names of new partners added. N.Y. State 45; N.Y. County 316, The justification for such practice was in A.B.A
“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 con tributed 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,”
Clients of the firm should be notified promptly of the death of the attorney. See “Professional Ethic-Et #5” approved January 30, 1969 by Committee on Professional Ethics of New York State Bar Association.
Questions No. 1, 2, and 4 are answered in the affirmative. Question No. 3 involves a question of law as to which this Committee does not express an opinion.
December 30, 1969.