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118 N.J.L.J. 94
July 24, 1986
ADVISORY COMMITTEE ON PROFESSIONAL ETHICS
Appointed by the Supreme Court of New Jersey
Lawyer's Use of "C.P.A." on Letterhead
(Overrules Opinion 447)
This inquiry raises the question whether the designation
"C.P.A." may be used on the letterhead of an attorney who is also
a certified public accountant. Our Committee first considered this
issue at the behest of the same inquirer in 1980, when the
applicable disciplinary rule, DR 2-102(D), read as follows:
A lawyer who is engaged in the practice of law and
another profession or business shall not so indicate on
his letterhead, office sign, or professional card, nor
shall he identify himself as a lawyer in any publication
in connection with his other profession or business.
We held that the explicit language of the rule plainly prohibited
the proposed CPA designation on an attorney's letterhead,
notwithstanding the inquirer's arguments based on Bates v. State
Bar of Arizona, 433 U.S. 350 (1977) and the abandonment of
comparable disciplinary code provisions in other jurisdictions.
Opinion 447, 105 N.J.L.J. ll9 (1980); Opinion 447 (Supplement), 106
N.J.L.J. 69 (1980).
The New Jersey Supreme Court then denied a petition to review
our ruling, In re Professional Ethics Opinion 447, 86 N.J. 473
(1981), quoting DR 2-102(D) and saying:
This disciplinary rule is concise and unambiguous and
compels the conclusion that the suggested conduct is
violative of its clear wording. The inclusion upon the
letterhead of an attorney at law of the designation "CPA"
or other expression of licensure as a Certified Public
Accountant is unquestionably the indication of "another
profession" in addition to that of a practicing lawyer.
Its use is contrary to the direct and simple command of
this disciplinary rule. 86 N.J. at 476.
The Court did recognize that at least nine other jurisdictions and
the American Bar Association had chosen to delete similar
disciplinary rules, but reiterated that New Jersey was not among
them. 86 N.J. at 480.
Against this background, on January 16, 1984, the Supreme
Court in response to the report of its Committee on Attorney
Advertising substantially amended Disciplinary Rules 2-101 through
2-105. DR 2-102(D), the above quoted rule upon which the Court and
this Committee had based their respective rulings that the CPA
designation cannot appear on an attorney's letterhead, was deleted
in its entirety. The subject matter of former DR 2-102, minus the
prohibition against the use of extralegal qualifications on
letterheads, became incorporated into new DR 2-105 and
subsequently, with the adoption of the new Rules of Professional
Conduct on September 10, 1984, into R.P.C. 7.5, "Firm Names and
Letterheads". Thus our disciplinary code, in common with those of
various other states, no longer explicitly forbids an attorney from
indicating on his letterhead that he also practices another
The Court's comments accompanying the 1984 revisions did not
discuss the deletion of former DR 2-102(D) one way or the other.
See 113 N.J.L.J. 91-93 (1984). Nor is the Report of the Committee
on Advertising helpful in this regard. But in view of (1) the
generally expansive nature of the amendments, designed as they were
to permit freer communication to the public concerning attorneys'
services and qualifications; (2) the Court's recent attention to
the deleted provision itself in In re Professional Ethics Opinion
447, supra.; and (3) the Court's awareness, expressed in that
opinion, of a tendency to delete similar disciplinary code
provisions in other jurisdictions, we do not believe that the
deletion of former DR 2-102(D) was either inadvertent or in
furtherance of incorporating the prohibition by implication into
some other rule. The Court did suggest in In re Professional Ethics
Opinion 447, supra., that the practice of including extra-legal
qualifications on an attorney's letterhead "creates a potential for
misperception" or a "possibility of confusion" sufficient to
sustain the constitutionality of restrictions on its use, 86 N.J.
at 479, but stopped short of characterizing it as the sort of
"false or misleading communication" which is today forbidden by
R.P.C. 7.1 and previously by every comparable disciplinary code
provision which preceded it. In any event, given the history of
former DR 2-102(D), if the Court had wished to retain the
prohibition it surely would have said so in the course of the 1984
For the foregoing reasons, we hold that the inclusion on a
lawyer's letterhead of the designation "C.P.A." is no longer per se
violative of our rules governing the professional conduct of
attorneys provided of course that the designation is accurate and
not misleading. R.P.C. 7.1, 7.5(a). In response to a secondary
question put by the inquirer, we further see no reason why the
C.P.A. designation cannot be used in directory listings to the same
extent as on letterheads.
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