April 1, 1986
Committee opinions disapproving use of the term ‘Associates’ in the name of a law firm are withdrawn in light of the Florida Supreme Court decision permitting such use.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 .