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PROFESSIONAL ETHICS OF THE FLORIDA BAR

CONSOLIDATED OPINIONS 79-6 AND 80-2

A lawyer admitted to practice in Florida may indicate on his letterhead other states in which he is admitted to practice.

CPR: DR 2-101, DR 2-101(B), (C), DR 2-102, DR 2-102(A), (D), (F)
Opinions: 64-12, 65-53, 70-35, 76-12, 76-20
Cases: The Florida Bar re Amendments to The Florida Bar Code of Professional Responsibility (Advertising), 380 So.2d 435 (Fla. 1980); The Florida Bar v. Savitt, 363 So.2d 559 (Fla. 1978); The Florida Bar re Petition to Amend the Code of Professional Responsibility, 330 So.2d 9 (Fla. 1976)

The Committee is asked whether a law firm may designate on its letterhead jurisdictions other than Florida in which the attorneys of the firm are admitted to practice. This question has been raised on numerous occasions and has consistently been answered in the negative.

The action of the Supreme Court of Florida amending the Code of Professional Responsibility, and particularly DR 2-101, DR 2-102 and related Ethical Considerations, compels consideration anew of the inquiry. See The Florida Bar re Amendment To The Florida Bar Code of Professional Responsibility (Advertising), 380 So.2d 435 (Fla. 1980).

At the outset the Committee notes that a lawyer's use of a letterhead is distinguished from pure forms of advertising both historically and by function. Lawyers have historically been authorized to use letterheads when virtually all forms of advertising were prohibited. By function, letterheads are a device whereby accurate and necessary information is conveyed to an individual addressee, the lawyer having some independent reason or authorization for having communicated directly with the addressee. The letterhead is not the message. Thus, though useful information is imparted by the letterhead, the inherent function is distinguishable from “advertising” where the very purpose of the communication is to impart the information to the public generally.

Because of this historical and functional distinction between letterhead use and advertising, that which is appropriate under the Code for letterheads may not, uniformly, be appropriate for all advertising. This opinion of the Committee is directed, and restricted, to the question of the propriety of disclosure on letterheads of admission to another jurisdiction.

Prior to the Supreme Court's 1980 amendment of the Code, DR 2-102(A) prohibited any and all use of letterheads except as authorized in subsection (4) thereof. Subsection (4) did not authorize the listing of admission to other jurisdictions and it was the consistent opinion of the Committee that such listing would constitute a prohibited advertising of the lawyer's qualifications. (See Advisory Opinions 76-20 [since withdrawn], 76-12 [since withdrawn], 70-35 [since withdrawn], 65-53 [since withdrawn], 64-12 [since withdrawn]).

Separate authorization for the letterhead identification of all members and associates of bona fide interstate law partnerships arose from DR 2-102(D), with express requirement that jurisdictional limitations of members and associates be made clear. No mention could be made of attorney membership in any bar association other than Florida. See The Florida Bar v. Savitt, 363 So.2d 559, 561 (Fla. 1978).

In 1976 the Florida Supreme Court rejected proposed amendments to the Code which would have removed the authorization of interstate law partnerships to enumerate on letterheads the partners and associates who were not admitted in Florida [DR 2-102(D)] and would have expressly authorized Florida lawyers to disclose on letterheads admission to other jurisdictions [DR 2-102(F)]. The Florida Bar re Petition to Amend the Code of Professional Responsibility, 330 So.2d 9 (Fla. 1976).

DR 2-102(A), dealing with letterheads which may be employed by lawyers or firms was, however, revised by the Supreme Court's 1980 decision to provide:

(A) A lawyer or law firm shall not use or participate in the use of a professional card, professional announcement card, office sign, letterhead, telephone directory listing, law list, legal directory listing or a similar professional notice or device if it includes a statement or claim that is false, fraudulent, misleading, or deceptive within the meaning of DR 2-101(B) or that violates the regulations contained in DR 2-101(C). (Emphasis supplied.)

In accordance with the above-quoted provision, the Committee has reviewed the referenced sections and is of the opinion that letterhead listing by a Florida lawyer of his admissions to the bar of another state is neither false, fraudulent, misleading or deceptive within the meaning of DR 2-101(B), nor violative of the regulations contained in DR 2-101(C). The Committee is, therefore, of the opinion that a lawyer admitted to practice in Florida may include on his letterhead a statement of other states in which he is admitted to practice. Prior advisory opinions to the contrary are hereby receded from by reason of the 1980 amendment of DR 2-102(A) by the Supreme Court of Florida.

Other factors must be considered where the names of non-Florida lawyers are listed on the letterhead of an interstate law partnership.

The authorization of Florida lawyers to form interstate law partnerships, to employ a common firm name, and to identify lawyers of the firm who are not admitted to practice in Florida stems solely from DR 2-102(D), and carries with it the restrictions set forth therein. DR 2-102(D) was not amended by the 1980 decision of the Supreme Court regarding advertising. It, therefore, appears to the Committee that bona fide interstate partnerships may, as authorized by DR 2-102(D), list on firm letterhead members and associates of the firm who are not admitted in Florida and may, as authorized by DR 2-102(A), enumerate the jurisdictions to which those lawyers are admitted.

In making such listings, of course, the interstate partnership must ensure that jurisdictional limitations of the lawyers listed are clearly stated and that there is no suggestion, implied or otherwise, that non-Florida lawyers are admitted or authorized to practice in Florida.

[Revised: 06-20-2013]