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Ethics Opinion

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May 7, 1984


    A law firm may not place the name of a lay office administrator on its letterhead.

    References: MCPR Canon 2, DR 2-102(A)(4).


A law firm has requested an opinion on the propriety of placing the name of a lay office administrator on its letterhead. The administrator's name would be listed a part from the list of lawyers and would carry the designation "Legal Administrator."

The question is answered by reference to MCPR Canon 2, DR 2-102(A)(4), and a number of opinions. Canon 2 simply requires that "a lawyer should assist the legal profession in fulfilling its duty to make legal counsel available." MCPR 2-102(A)(4) states in pertinent part:

    "(A) A lawyer or law firm may use . . . letterheads . . . as follows, in dignified form:

      ". . .

      "(4) A letterhead of a lawyer identifying him by name and as a lawyer, and giving his addresses, telephone numbers, the name of his law firm, associates, and any information permitted under MCPR 2-105 [relating to limitation of practice]."

The Comment to MCPR 2-102(A)(4) found in the Annotated CI Opinions, American Bar Foundation, 1979, p. 57, is instructive:

    "The information on a lawyer's letterhead must not be misleading. Most often a letterhead is deemed to be misleading when it implies or states that particular relationships exist when they do not. The misleading information may relate to partnership names, or, as more often appears to be the case, it may consist of names on the letterhead. According to Informal Opinion [ABA] 770, July 20, 1964, which was decided under the old Canons, '[t]he purpose of . . . listing [names on the letterhead of a law firm] is merely to indicate who are available to perform legal services . . . whether as partner or associate.' It follows then that lawyers may not show the names of lay persons (Informal Opinion [ABA] 1000, October 16, 1967) . . . ."

This Committee has consistently applied the prohibition against use of lay persons' names on letterheads. See CI-46, collection assistant; CI-215, clerks, legal assistants, para-professionals; CI-724, legal assistants; CI-787, legal assistants. In CI-92 the Committee concluded:

    "It is improper to list on the letterhead or door panel of a law firm the name of an individual designated as 'office manager' whether he be a lawyer or a layman."

It is improper to place the name of the firm's lay office administrator on its letterhead.



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