The Florida Bar

Ethics Opinion

Opinion 86-4

FLORIDA BAR ETHICS OPINION
OPINION 86-4
August 1, 1986
Advisory ethics opinions are not binding.
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.
CPR:
RPC:
Opinions:

DR 2-102; DR 3-104(E); EC 3-6
4-7.5
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 DR 2-102(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 DR 2-102.
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 EC 3-6 provides for an indication of the
letter-writer’s nonlawyer status. DR 3-104(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 DR 2-102 and DR 3-104(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. DR 2-102.