July 25, 1986
A lawyer's office letterhead may not include the name of a paralegal employed by the lawyer.
References: MCPR DR 2-102(A); CI-46, CI-92, CI-215, CI-724, CI-756, CI-787, CI-1003.
A lawyer asks whether the law firm letterhead may include the name of a paralegal as long as the position of the paralegal is clearly designated. The lawyer states that inclusion of the paralegal on letterhead actually reduces confusion as to the paralegal's role with the firm. Mere designation of the paralegal's status under the paralegal's signature has resulted in return correspondence addressing him as a lawyer.
The Committee has addressed this question in other opinions. See CI-46, CI-92, CI-756, CI-787 and CI-1003.
MCPR DR 2-102(A) sets forth specific parameters for law firm letterhead and communications about law firm services, but does not allow a law firm to hold out nonlawyers on firm letterhead. The philosophy underlying DR 2-102(A) is based on the fact that it is the lawyers, members of a regulated state-licensed profession, who constitute the firm or office designated on the letterhead. While the modern practice of law includes utilization of an increasing number or paraprofessionals of many types, these positions are not always well-defined, licensed or regulated. Their work is ancillary to the lawyer's work, supporting without actually undertaking the practice of law. We have no thought of diminishing the value of a paraprofessional's assistance to a lawyer in the lawyer's practice, but it is only the lawyer who practices law under the name designated on the letterhead and therefore, it is appropriate that only lawyers' names be printed there.
We are not inclined to depart from the great weight of authority on this subject, both in Michigan and other jurisdictions. Although the lawyer's experience may suggest a possible need for further study, we are not aware of any broad-based empirical data supporting a change in the long-standing rule and the uniformity of opinion on this issue. In general, we believe that the appropriate status designation under the lay employee's signature is sufficient to eliminate the potential for confusion.