While most states allow law firms to use trade names, New Jersey had resisted relaxing its law firm name requirements.
However, under the most recent amendments to Rule of Professional Conduct 7.5 (RPC 7.5), the Supreme Court of New Jersey will now allow law firms to use trade names without also having to include the name of a lawyer with the firm.
2015 Amendments to Rule of Professional Conduct 7.5
In 2013, the New Jersey Supreme Court first recognized the need to relax its restrictions on firm names. “In balance, we have become convinced that trade names need not be forbidden in New Jersey and that we should align our law firms’ naming options more in keeping with our sister states’ recognition that use of trade names can be incorporated in the profession without harm to the public,” the opinion concluded.
Two years later, the New Jersey Supreme Court amended Rule of Professional Conduct 7.5 to state:
Use of a trade name shall be permissible so long as it describes the nature of the firm’s legal practice in terms that are accurate, descriptive, and informative, but not misleading, comparative, or suggestive of the ability to obtain results. Such trade names shall be accompanied by the full or last names of one or more of the lawyers practicing in the firm or the names of lawyers who are no longer associated in the firm through death or retirement.
While the rule change allowed New Jersey law firms to include a trade name, firms were still required to include the last name of a current or former lawyer.
Latest Amendments to Law Firm Name Requirements
Yielding to continued pressure to relax its law firm name requirements, the New Jersey Supreme Court recently amended Rule 7.5 again. As set forth in the court’s Notice to the Bar, “The Court took this action based on its review of the RPCs and Court Rules to ensure compliance with constitutional principles.”
A lawsuit challenging the 2015 version of RPC 7.5 was pending in federal district court. The plaintiff, Salt Lake City law firm Law HQ, alleged that the rule unconstitutionally restricted commercial speech without advancing any legitimate state interest. Law HQ filed suits against eight other states with similar law firm name restrictions, later dropping the suits after states changed their rules.
New Jersey’s latest change to RPC 7.5 eliminated the requirement that a law firm name include the name of a lawyer. However, the requirement that a trade name must not be “misleading, comparative, or suggestive of the ability to retain results” is preserved. To ensure that consumers have necessary information about the lawyers in the firm, the Court’s amendments to RPC 7.5 include a requirement that when a law firm name does not include the name of a lawyer, any advertisement, letterhead, or other communication containing the law firm name must include the name of at least one licensed New Jersey lawyer who is responsible for the firm’s New Jersey practice or the local office of that practice.
The relevant provision of Rule 7.5 now states:
A law firm practicing in more than one jurisdiction may use the same law firm name in New Jersey, provided the law firm name complies with this Rule. In New Jersey, identification of all lawyers of the firm, in advertisements, on letterheads or anywhere else that the law firm name is used, shall indicate the jurisdictional limitations on those not licensed to practice in New Jersey. Where the name of an attorney not licensed to practice in this State is used in a law firm name, or where the law firm name does not include the name of a lawyer in the firm or the name of a lawyer who has ceased to be associated with the firm through death or retirement, any advertisement, letterhead or other communication containing the law firm name must include the name of at least one licensed New Jersey attorney who is responsible for the firm’s New Jersey practice or the local office thereof. The amendments were adopted September 9, 2020 and were effective upon adoption.