The Florida Bar

Ethics Opinion

Opinion 86-1

FLORIDA BAR ETHICS OPINION
OPINION 86-1
April 1, 1986
Advisory ethics opinions are not binding.
Committee opinions disapproving use of the term “Associates” in the name of a law firm are
withdrawn in light of the Florida Supreme Court decision permitting such use.
Case:

The Florida Bar v. Fetterman, 439 So.2d 835 (Fla. 1983).

Over the years this Committee issued numerous opinions finding that use of the term
“Associates” in a law firm name (e.g., “John Doe & Associates”) was improper. See Opinions
66-34, 66-34 Supp., 76-10, 76-17, 76-22 and 81-4. The rationale for these opinions was that such
a firm name was potentially misleading as to the identity, responsibility or status of the lawyers
practicing under the name.
Subsequent to the latest of these opinions, the Florida Supreme Court held that a firm
name including the term “Associates” was not inherently misleading. The Florida Bar v.
Fetterman, 439 So.2d 835 (Fla. 1983). In Fetterman the Court provided guidelines for
determining whether a particular use of “Associates” would be operatively misleading.
The Court defined “associate” narrowly to mean “a salaried lawyer-employee who is not
a partner of the firm” and to exclude nonlawyer employees of the firm. The Court indicated that
as long as the name of the employer lawyer is included in the firm name and the named lawyer
does in fact employ other lawyers to assist him in his practice, a firm name including the term
“Associates” is permissible. The employer lawyer’s name must be included in the firm name so
that the general public will be apprised of that lawyer’s position of responsibility with respect to
the firm’s obligations and duties to its clients. If the named lawyer should cease to employ other
lawyers to assist him in the practice of law, the term “Associates” must be removed from the
firm name.
In light of Fetterman the Committee withdraws opinions 66-34, 66-34 Supp., 76-10,
76-17, 76-22 and 81-4. Lawyers who wish to use the term “Associates” in their firm name are to
be guided by Fetterman.