FLORIDA BAR ETHICS OPINION
November 27, 1972
Advisory ethics opinions are not binding.
The name of a previously unnamed partner may be added to a firm name despite the
continuing use of a deceased former partner’s name.
Please note that current Rule 4-7.21, Rules Regulating The Florida Bar, permits trade names.
33, old Canons of Professional Ethics
EC 2-11; DR 2-102
63-1, 64-20, 65-55, 67-3; ABA Formal 267; ABA Informal 388, 541, 598, 605, 959,
Vice Chairman Zehmer stated the opinion of the committee:
A member of The Florida Bar states that he and his deceased father had engaged in the
practice of law for several years under the firm name of (Jones and Jones). A few months before his
father’s death recently, an associate (Smith) was given a partnership interest in the firm, but no
change in the firm name was made at that time. The inquirer now desires to change the firm name to
(Jones, Jones and Smith), showing in the customary manner that his father is now deceased. The
inquirer also states that he and (Smith) expect to eventually change the firm name to (Jones and
Smith). The specific question presented is whether (Smith) may now be added to the original firm
name or whether such addition will require deletion of the deceased father’s name.
Before adoption of the Code of Professional Responsibility, this and similar problems
involving the use of the name of a deceased partner were governed by Canon 33. Such problems
have been considered by this Committee under that Canon. See Florida Opinion Nos. 63-1 [since
withdrawn], 64-20, 65-55 and 67-3 [since withdrawn]. Similar questions under Canon 33 have also
been the subject of much discussion by the Standing Committee on Professional Ethics of the
American Bar Association. See ABA Formal Opinion No. 267 and Informal Opinion Nos. 388, 541,
598, 605, 959 and 1080. The history and development of this custom is thoroughly discussed in
many of these opinions, especially Florida Opinion 65-55.
The question is now governed by DR 2-102 and EC 2-11 of the recently adopted Code of
Professional Responsibility. EC 2-11 states in part that:
The use of a trade name or an assumed name could mislead laymen concerning the
identity, responsibility, and status of those practicing thereunder. Accordingly, a
lawyer in private practice should practice only under his own name, the name of a
lawyer employing him, a partnership name composed of the name of one or more of
the lawyers practicing in a partnership, or, if permitted by law, in the name of a
professional legal corporation, which should be clearly designated as such. 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
EC 2-11 contains a footnote to ABA Opinion No. 267 which explains:
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 partner dies, and that reflects a loss in some degree of the
good will to the building up of which the surviving partners have contributed 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 [old ABA Canon 33] the individuals
constituting the firm from time to time are listed.
Accordingly, DR 2-102(B) specifically prohibits a lawyer from practicing under “a trade
name that is misleading as to the identity of the lawyer or lawyers practicing under such name, or a
firm name containing names other than those of one or more of the lawyers in the firm,” but it
expressly recognizes and preserves the exception that “if otherwise lawful firm may use as, or
continue to include in, its name the name or names of one or more deceased or retired members of
the firm or of a predecessor firm in a continuing line of succession.”
Former Canon 33 permitted use of a deceased partner’s name only when “permissible by
local custom.” No such provision is contained in the new CPR and this omission apparently
indicates a purpose to make the practice in this regard uniform. Moreover, although some of the
previous opinions of this Committee under Canon 33 have indicated that continuation of a deceased
partner’s name in the firm name may be permissible only for a “reasonable time” (see Opinions
63-1, 65-55 and 67-3), the silence of the new CPR on any time limitation, considered in light of the
deletion of the limitation imposed by “local custom,” also suggests that a deceased partner’s name
may be used indefinitely if the other prescribed circumstances exist, primarily the circumstance of
The main objection to continued use of a deceased partner’s name is the possibility of
deceiving or misleading the public. However, as the cited Florida Opinions indicate, this possibility
can be avoided by showing the fact of the partner’s death on the firm’s letterheads, listings, and so
forth. DR 2-102(A)(4) specifically authorizes the inclusion in a law firm’s letterhead of the “names
and dates relating to deceased and retired members.”
Therefore, it appears to the Committee that the inquirer’s proposal to add (Smith) to the firm
name and continue using the name of his deceased father is compatible with the provisions of the
Code of Professional Responsibility so long as the fact of the deceased partner’s death is
appropriately shown, which the inquirer has stated will be done.
Two members of the Committee believe that in the interest of avoiding the possibility of
misleading the public, the inquirer should change the name to (Jones and Smith) at this time and
only show the deceased father’s name on the listing of attorneys with the date of his birth and death.
This inquiry does not seek advice on the change of a firm name so as to continue a deceased
partner’s name and add the name of one who had never been a partner of the deceased partner.
Accordingly, the Committee expresses no opinion on that precise question.