The Florida Bar
It is permissible for nonlawyer employees to be listed on a law firm's letterhead along with their titles signifying their nonlawyer status. It also is permissible to issue nonlawyer employees business cards bearing their name and title along with the firm name, address and telephone number.
August 1, 1986
August 1, 1986
CPR: DR 2-102; DR 3-104(E); EC 3-6
Opinions: 71-39; 73-43; 77-14
One of the most frequently asked ethics questions in the last year or two has been whether it is permissible to list nonlawyer employees -paralegals and legal assistants in particular - with their titles on law firm letterhead. A related question of similar frequency is whether it is permissible to issue nonlawyer employees business cards bearing their name and title along with the firm's name, address and telephone number. Both are permissible.
The Committee's prior opinions on the permissibility of letterhead listings and business cards for nonlawyer employees are somewhat inconsistent and dated. In Opinion 71-39 the Committee found it to be permissible for a law firm's investigator to carry business cards imprinted with the investigator's name and the law firm's name, address and telephone number. In Opinion 73-43 the Committee found it impermissible, because of the possibility of solicitation, for a law firm's name to be imprinted on a lay employee's business card. The Committee also found it impermissible for a law firm's trained paralegal to write letters on firm stationary with the title "Legal Assistant" appearing below the paralegal's signature and name. The Committee reasoned that the terms "Legal Assistant" and "Paralegal" had "no official meaning and no precise definition that [was] generally applied or accepted" and could mislead clients into believing that nonlawyer assistants were lawyers.
Opinion 77-14 found it impermissible for a law firm to signify and name a legal assistant on the firm letterhead. The Committee found the practice not to be authorized by DR2-102(A) as it existed in 1977. In its 1977 form, the rule imposed detailed restrictions on letterhead, business cards and signs. In its current form DR 2-102 simply requires that letterhead and business cards not include any statement that is false, fraudulent, misleading or deceptive. Proposed Rule of Professional Conduct 4-7.5 is essentially the same as the current DR2-102.
At the same time that the Committee in Opinion 77-14 disapproved the listing of legal assistants on firm letterhead, the Committee permitted a legal assistant to sign letters as "Legal Assistant." This time the Committee noted that EC3-6 provides for an indication of the letter-writer's nonlawyer status. DR3-104(E) requires that a nonlawyer disclose his or her nonlawyer status in communications with clients, lawyers outside the firm and members of the public.
In light of the growing presence of formally trained and/or experienced legal assistants and paralegals in the practice of law, the popular recognition of their status and role, and the current DR2-102 and DR3-104(E), the Committee now concludes that it is permissible for paralegals and legal assistants to be named and their titles signified on firm letterhead. The Committee considers it unlikely that anyone will be misled by titles such as "Paralegal" and "Legal Assistant" to believe that the person named is a lawyer.
The Committee further concludes that it is permissible for nonlawyer employees to carry business cards imprinted with the nonlawyer employee's name and title and the firm's name, address and telephone number. Finally, the Committee reaffirms the conclusion of Opinion 77-14 that a nonlawyer's title indicating nonlawyer status should appear beneath the employee's name on correspondence signed by the employee.
Lawyers should take care not to hold a paralegal or legal assistant out as "certified" if the employee is not in fact certified. DR2-102.