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August 15, 2013
Board allows solos to use ‘we’ and ‘us’ in advertising

In a change from an established Bar policy, sole practitioners can now refer to themselves and their firm as “we,” “us,” and “our” in ads as long as they have nonlawyer staff.

Lanse Scriven The Board of Governors at its July meeting declined to overturn a decision by the Standing Committee on Advertising that allowed a solo practitioner to use plural pronouns in his or her advertising. That varied from earlier votes on the board which held that it was misleading under Bar advertising rules for sole practitioners to use plural pronouns in ads.

The majority of the board agreed with the advertising panel that it was not misleading to use “we,” “us,” or “our” because it did not imply there was more than one licensed Bar member in the firm. The Board Review Committee on Professional Ethics had voted 6-2 to recommend overturning the advertising committee, but the board rejected that by a 19-25 vote.

Board member Lanse Scriven, a BRCPE member who voted against overturning the advertising committee, said, “Lawyers say ‘we’ all the time when referring to their firm. . . . The reason lawyers do this is they want to appear to be a team. I know some solo practitioners who have a wonderful staff. I think this is one where we need to balance practicality with the rule.”

Board member Dennis Kainen likened the issue to answering the phone at a law firm with “law offices” even for a solo firm.

“I think our constituents are often saying to us, ‘Stop doing things to us that are absurd and ridiculous and make our lives hard for no reason,’” he said.

But board member Bill Davis noted the board had twice before carefully considered the issue and voted — once unanimously — that solo firms should not use plural pronouns because it creates a false impression that more than one attorney works at the firm.

“This is a big change in the way the rule has been interpreted,” he said. “I felt that first of all that the precedent was important. We get criticized quite a bit in litigation for being inconsistent in how we interpret our rules.”

Board member Jay Cohen likened it to the prohibition that a sole practitioner cannot use “and Associates” in a law firm name because it implies that the practice has more than one lawyer.

[Revised: 04-26-2017]