The Florida Bar

Ethics Opinion

Opinion A-09-1

June 25, 2009
Advisory advertising opinions are not binding.
A retired judge may not use the term “Judge” as a title on letterhead, business cards or in
advertising regardless of whether the title is modified by “former” or “retired” while actively
engaged in the practice of law after leaving the bench, but may accurately indicate that he or she
is a “retired judge” or “former judge.”

4-7.2(c)(1), 4-8.4(e)
73-27, 73-31, 75-34, ABA Formal Opinion 95-391

The Supreme Court of Florida has asked The Florida Bar to review the issue of use of the
title “Judge” by retired judges in the practice of law. It has come to the Court’s attention that
some attorneys who are retired judges and who are engaged in the active practice of law use the
term “Judge Jane Doe (Ret.)” or otherwise identify themselves as “Judge (Ret)” on letterhead,
business cards, and advertisements.
Although there are Florida ethics opinions written on the issue of use of the term “judge”
by a former judge who is actively engaged in the practice of law, those opinions were written
before the current lawyer advertising rules and before the creation of the Standing Committee on
Advertising. For example, Florida Ethics Opinion 73-27 concludes that a lawyer who is a former
municipal judge may not permit the lawyer’s telephone answering service to answer “Judge X’s
office.” Similarly, Florida Ethics Opinion 73-31 determined that a former judge who is actively
practicing law may not use a nameplate using “Judge X” on the lawyer’s door or desk. Florida
Ethics Opinion 75-34 states that a former judge who practices law and serves as a corporate
officer may not use “Judge X” on corporate stationary or let corporate employees refer to the
lawyer as “Judge” when communicating with third persons.
The American Bar Association has taken a similar position, indicating that former judges
should not use the titles of either “Judge” or “The Honorable” while engaged in the practice of
law, including answering the telephone “Judge X’s Office,” having “Judge X” on a nameplate, or
using “Judge X.” See ABA Formal Opinion 95-391 (1995). The ABA opinion cites concerns
that such references are misleading, and may “exaggerate the influence the lawyer may be able to
The Standing Committee on Advertising agrees with the Florida and ABA ethics
opinions. Florida Bar rules prohibit lawyers from making false, misleading, or deceptive
communications about their services, whether they are misleading by omission or commission.
Rule 4-7.2(c)(1), Rules Regulating The Florida Bar. Additionally, a lawyer may not “state or
imply an ability to influence improperly a government agency or official or to achieve results by
means that violate the Rules of Professional Conduct or other law.” Rule 4-8.4(e), Rules
Regulating The Florida Bar. The Committee is of the opinion that lawyers should not use the
term “Judge” preceding their names, regardless of whether a modifier such as “former” or
“retired” is used, when they are actively engaged in the practice of law after leaving the bench.

Such a use is misleading, as the person is no longer a judge, and it may lead the public to believe
that the person has an ability to exert improper influence in the judicial system. The Committee
therefore finds it improper to use the term as a title, or to use the term in any way that states or
implies that the former judge or justice has special influence. On the other hand, the Committee
believes that lawyers may properly provide accurate and truthful information to the public about
their prior judicial experience. For example, a former judge may include in advertisements an
accurate and truthful statement that he or she is a “retired circuit judge,” “former county judge”
or “former general magistrate.”