FLORIDA BAR ETHICS OPINION
April 15, 1988
Advisory ethics opinions are not binding.
Under no circumstances should an attorney permit a nonlawyer employee to sign the attorney’s
name, together with the nonlawyer’s initials, to notices of hearing and other pleadings.
4-3.4(c), 4-5.3(b), 4-5.5, 4-5.5(b)
Hankin v. Blissett, 475 So.2d 1303 (Fla. 3d DCA 1985)
The inquiring attorney requests an opinion regarding the ethical permissibility of the
An attorney who is on vacation authorizes his secretary, via a telephone
call, to sign the attorney’s name, together with the secretary’s initials, to
discovery and notices of hearing.
An attorney with a large case load authorizes his secretary or paralegal
office manager to sign notices of hearings as a convenience.
Under the Rules of Professional Conduct (Chapter 4, Rules Regulating The Florida Bar),
an attorney may delegate functions to a nonlawyer employee so long as the attorney supervises
and retains responsibility for the work. Rule 4-5.5, Comment. The delegating attorney has a duty
to make reasonable efforts to ensure that the nonlawyer employee’s conduct is compatible with
the professional obligations of the attorney. Rule 4-5.3(b). One of the attorney’s professional
obligations is to refrain from knowingly disobeying the rules of a tribunal. Rule 4-3.4(c).
Thus, an attorney practicing in Florida courts is obligated to comply personally with the
Rules of Judicial Administration and to ensure that the conduct of his nonlawyer employees is
compatible with this obligation. In this respect, Rule 2.060(d) of the Rules of Judicial
Administration provides in pertinent part:
Every pleading and other paper of a party represented by an attorney shall be
signed by at least one attorney of record in his individual name whose address and
telephone number, including area code, shall be stated, and who shall be duly
licensed to practice law in Florida or who shall have received permission to
appear in the particular case as provided in subsection (b) . . . . If a pleading is not
signed or is signed with intent to defeat the purpose of this rule, it may be stricken
and the action may proceed as though the pleading or other paper had not been
In view of the rules referred to above, the Committee concludes that an attorney should
not under any circumstances permit nonlawyer employees to sign notices of hearing.
The Committee is aware of Hankin v. Blissett, 475 So.2d 1303 (Fla. 3d DCA 1985),
which held that a notice of appeal on which an attorney’s secretary signed the attorney’s name
met the requirements of Rule 2.060(d) because “a pleading signed in the name of the attorney by
the attorney’s authorized agent is, in effect, a pleading signed by the attorney.” Hankin addressed
only the legal sufficiency of pleadings signed by nonlawyers for lawyers. The ruling does not
relieve attorneys of their ethical obligation to comply with the letter of Rule 2.060(d). Failure to
comply with the letter of the rule carries danger of aiding the unlicensed practice of law in
violation of Rule 4-5.5(b).