NEW YORK COUNTY LAWYERS’ ASSOCIATION
Committee on Professional Ethics
QUESTION NO. 673
TOPIC: PARALEGALS; BUSINESS CARDS; LETTERHEAD
DIGEST: A paralegal may use a business card that lists the name of the law firm or law department, the the name of the paralegal and a designation of his or her non-lawyer status, without the name of a supervising lawyer, and the firm or law department’s letterhead may list paralegals provided that there is an appropriate designation showing that they are not lawyers.
CODE: DR 2-101(A), DR 2-l01(D), DR 2-102(A), DR 2-101(A)(4), EC 3-6.
QUESTION: (1) May a paralegal employee have a business card with the name of the firm or corporate legal office and the name of the paralegal, without the name of a supervising lawyer? (2) May the letterhead of a law firm or law department list paralegals?
One of the by-products of lawyers’ attempts to provide efficient and reasonably-priced legal services to their clients is the increasing use of legal assistants (also known as paralegals) to perform certain functions previously performed by lawyers. Such use is recognized in the Code of Professional Responsibility. EC 3-6 (Delegation of tasks to clerks is proper if the lawyer maintains a direct relationship with the client, supervises the delegated work and remains professionally responsible for the work product). See generally N.Y. County 666 (1985).
Use of paralegal employees is common not only in law firms but also in corporate law departments, government offices, public defender offices, legal services offices and in unincorporated associations, such as trade groups and unions (hereinafter referred to collectively as “law departments”).
Since paralegals may have to deal with clients and members of the court system and the public while performing their duties, it will often be convenient for them to identify themselves and their affiliation by means of a business card. DR 2-102(A) specifically deals with the professional cards of a lawyer or law firm, and permits the professional card of a law firm to give the names of members and associates. It does not specifically address legal assistants. However, DR 2-101(A), the general rule with respect to advertising by lawyers, implicitly allows a lawyer to use or disseminate any public communications as long as they are not false, deceptive or misleading.
Accordingly, we believe that an agent of the lawyer, including a paralegal, may also use a business card as long as it names the agent, identifies him or her as a non-lawyer, and sets forth his or her affiliation. See N.Y. County 666 (1985), N.Y. City 884 (1974).
In 1976 (before the Supreme Court’s decision in Bates v. State Bar of Arizona, 433 U.S. 350 (1977) and the ensuing amendments to advertising rules in Canon 2 of the Code), the New York State Bar Association published Guidelines for the Utilization by Lawyers of the Service of Legal Assistants (the “Guidelines”). Guideline VI stated, in part: “A lawyer may permit his name to be stated on his legal assistant’s business card, provided the legal assistant’s capacity is clearly indicated.” However, we do not interpret either this Guideline or the Code to require that the name of an individual lawyer appear on the legal assistant’s business card. In the case of a law firm, the name of the law firm should appear on the card, and in the case of law department, we believe the name of the entity (with or without the designation “Legal Department”) should appear on the card.
DR 2-102(A)(4) authorizes a lawyer to use letterhead that is in accordance with DR 2-101 (i.e. not false, deceptive or misleading), including letterhead identifying the lawyer by name and as a lawyer, and giving other information, including “the names of members and associates, and names and dates relating to deceased and retired members”. The section does not specifically authorize the listing of legal assistants.
Before the Bates amendments to the Code, the listing of non- lawyer employees on a lawyer’s letterhead was prohibited, See, e.g., N.Y. State 261 (1972)(paralegals), N.Y. City 884 (1984)(paralegals), N.Y. County 589 (patent agents), ABA Inf. 1367 (paralegals). However, as noted in N.Y. State 500 (1978), the effect of the Bates amendments was that non-lawyer status will no longer preclude the use of a person’s name on a firm’s letterhead, as long as the name is accompanied by language that makes clear his or her non-lawyer status.
DR 2-101(D) provides:
Advertising and publicity shall be designed to educate the public to an awareness of legal needs and to provide information relevant to the selection of the most appropriate counsel. Information other than that specifically authorized in subdivision (C) that is consistent with these purposes may be disseminated providing that it does not violate any other provisions of this rule.
We believe that the fact that the law firm or law department uses paralegals is relevant to its work and to the persons who may deal with the paralegals. Moreover, identifying paralegals as such on the letterhead of the law firm or law department may be useful to confirm their non-lawyer status. Accordingly, we believe a law firm or law department may list legal assistants on their letterhead as long as such listing clearly and in a non-misleading fashion indicates their non-lawyer status.
A paralegal may use a business card that lists the name of the the law firm or law department, the name of the paralegal and an identification of his or her non-lawyer status, without the name of a supervising lawyer, and the law firm or law department’s letterhead may list paralegals provided that there is an appropriate designation showing that they are not lawyers.
October 23, 1989
In answering questions this Committee acts by virtue of the following provision of the By-laws of the Association, Article 54, Section 3:
“This Committee shall have power, when consulted, to advise inquirers respecting questions of proper professional conduct, reporting its action to the Board of Directors from time to time.”
It is understood that this Committee acts on specific questions submitted ex parte and in its answers bases its opinion on such facts only as are set forth in the question.