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                                         3 N.J.L. 162
                                        January 24, 1994

                                        136 N.J.L.J. 375
                                        January 24, 1994


Appointed by the New Jersey Supreme Court


Paralegals - Identification
on Law Firm Letterhead or in

(Supersedes ACPE Opinion 296)See footnote 1 1

    The Committee has received an inquiry concerning a large personal injury law firm's newspaper advertisement which invites women who have had breast implants to call one of its attorneys or "[Jane Doe], our paralegal who has had medical experience." The inquirer asks whether lawyers may include the names of their paralegals in their advertisements and, if so, on their letterhead.
    In Opinion 296, 98 N.J.L.J. 105 (1975) the Advisory Committee on Professional Ethics, which up until this Committee was formally created on July 1, 1987 had jurisdiction over advertising and letterhead, held that it was unethical for an attorney to include on the law firm's letterhead the name of a full-time investigator or paralegal. The Advisory Committee relied upon American Bar Association Standing Committee on Professional Ethics Informal Opinion 619 (1962) which, quoting Drinker, Legal Ethics (1953) 228, refused to allow a secretary's name to appear on a lawyer's letterhead stating:
        A lawyer's letterhead may not carry the name of a client or of a patent agent associate, non-lawyer, notary or engineer or clerk or student or other layman, or give the names of references, or state that a layman's association is associated with him in handling collections.

    The Advisory Committee also cited ABA Informal Opinion 845 (1965), which held that the inclusion of a name on a letterhead with the designation "office manager" would be improper, and Informal Opinion 1000 (1967), which cited both Informal Opinions 619 and 845, supra, and held that "it would be improper to list your salaried investigator on your firm letterhead as 'Staff Investigator' or in any other manner."
    DR 2-102(A)(4), the predecessor rule to RPC 7.5, stipulated that an attorney or firm could not use any letterhead that was not of prescribed content and dignified form. Additionally, DR 2-101 generally inveighed against self-laudation, and including an investigator's name and title on letterhead would have had a self- laudatory effect as it would "impress upon those seeing the letterhead the size, importance and efficiency of the firm... ." ABA Informal Opinion 845, supra. Therefore, the inclusion on letterhead of the names and titles of individuals in the firm other than attorneys was prohibited.

    DR 2-101 and DR 2-102 have since been replaced by RPC 7.5(a) and RPC 7.1(a), respectively. RPC 7.5(a) provides that "[a] lawyer shall not use a firm name, letterhead, or other professional designation that violates RPC 7.1." RPC 7.1 in pertinent part provides:
     (a) A lawyer shall not make false or misleading communications about the lawyer, the lawyer's services, or any matter in which the lawyer has or seeks a professional involvement. A communication is false or misleading if it:
(3) compares the lawyer's service with other lawyers'     services[.]
    The argument has been made that the inclusion of the names and titles of individuals other than attorneys is inherently comparative and potentially misleading as to the "size, importance and efficiency of the firm." ABA Informal Opinion 845, supra. However, we believe that the benefits to be derived from this type of communication in terms of the information it provides far outweigh the risks normally associated with comparative statements.     This is particularly true because we are not here concerned with an obviously comparative statement such as "the best law firm in New Jersey." The underlying message, if there is one, is much more subtle and, according to ABA Informal Opinion 845, misleading. Of course, this type of message can cut both ways. For example, while some potential clients may be interested in the economies the presence of paralegals may produce, others may fear that their cases will not actually be handled by an attorney and that they will therefore be at a disadvantage. However, we believe the fact that such information can be interpreted in different ways mitigates in favor of it being permitted on letterhead and in advertisements. Its presence will help consumers make more informed choices of counsel.      Additionally, the respect accorded to paralegals and the work they perform has increased immeasurably over the last 10 to 15 years. As the Advisory Committee on Professional Ethics stated in Opinion 647, 126 N.J.L.J. 1525 (1990):
        It cannot be gainsaid that the utilization of paralegals has become, over the last 10 years, accepted, acceptable, important and indeed, necessary to the practice of law. Lawyers, law firms and, more importantly, clients benefit greatly by their work. Those people who perform paraprofessionally are educated to do so. They are trained and truly professional. They are diligent and carry on their functions in a dignified, proper, professional manner. They understand ethical inhibitions and prohibitions. Lawyers assign them work expecting them to respect confidences which they obtain and to comport themselves in the best traditions of those who serve in the legal arena.

    The Advisory Committee then addressed the inquiry whether paralegals employed by and working under the direct supervision of an attorney could be permitted to carry business cards, so long as the name of the attorney or law firm appeared on the card and issuance was authorized by the attorney and/or law firm. Holding that attorneys and/or law firms could issue business cards to paralegal employees, the Committee stated:
    Giving to them the ability of clearly identifying themselves and for whom they work can only better serve their employers and clients. The business card, as is true in every area where business cards are used, serves to define the status of the person presenting that card and has the desired effect of eliminating confusion. Id.
    The same is or should be true of letterhead. Paralegal employees are already permitted to sign correspondence on a lawyer's or law firm's letterhead so long as the correspondence is confined to the gathering or dissemination and filing of routine information or documents and the paralegal's status is clearly set forth. Opinion 611, 121 N.J.L.J. 301 (1988). The inclusion of the paralegal's name and title on the letterhead will only serve to eliminate any possible confusion by defining and reinforcing the author's position with the firm.     Recent ABA Informal Opinion 1527 (1989) provides that non- lawyer support personnel, including paralegals, may be listed on a law firm's letterhead and reiterates previous opinions that approve of paralegals having business cards. See e.g. ABA Informal Opinion 1185 (1971) (the listing must not be false or misleading and "must make it clear that the support personnel who are listed are not lawyers."). The opinions of several states' ethics committees are in accord.See footnote 2 2
    It should also be pointed out that in its Comment to Guideline 5, ABA Model Guidelines for Legal Assistant Services (May 1991), the ABA Standing Committee on Legal Assistants suggested that in light of Peel v. Illinois Reg. and Disciplinary Commn, 496 U.S. 91, 110 S. Ct. 2281, 1190 L. Ed. 2d 93 (1990), it may be that a restriction on letterhead identification of legal assistants that is not deceptive and clearly identifies the legal assistant's status violates the First Amendment rights of the lawyer. However, we need not reach the constitutional question in resolving this matter.
    At this time, we limit the scope of this opinion to the inclusion on attorneys' letterhead of the names of paralegals as opposed to other non-lawyer support personnel. For the purposes of this opinion, we adopt the definition of a paralegal which may be found in the New Jersey State Bar Association Bylaws, Article 1, Paragraph 2, Section (c):

    A paralegal/legal assistant who is qualified through education, training, or work experience, is employed or retained by a lawyer, law office, governmental agency or other entity in a capacity or function which involves the performance, under the direction and supervision of a lawyer, of specifically-delegated substantive legal work, which work, for the most part, requires sufficient knowledge of legal concepts that, absent the paralegal or legal assistant, the lawyer would perform the task.See footnote 3 3

    In light of the foregoing, we now hold that attorneys may identify paralegals by name and title on their letterhead and in their advertisements.

* * *

Footnote: 1 1Pursuant to R. 1:19A-2(a), adopted June 26, 1987, to be effective July 1, 1987, the Committee on Attorney Advertising has exclusive jurisdiction to consider requests for advisory opinions concerning the application and interpretation of Rules of Professional Conduct 7.1 through 7.5, excluding RPC 7.3(c), (d), (e) and (f). Opinion 296, 98 N.J.L.J. 105 (1975), was issued by the Advisory Committee on Professional Ethics 9 1/2 years before the adoption of the Rules of Professional Conduct and 12 1/2 years before the creation of the Committee on Attorney Advertising. Therefore, the instant opinion supersedes Opinion 296 and is binding on all members of the bar. R. 1:19A-3(c).
Footnote: 2 2States which permit attorneys to list the names of paralegals and/or other non-lawyer support personnel on their letterhead, if the listing is not deceptive and the paralegal's status is clearly identified, include Connecticut, Recommendation 12 and Opinion 85- 17 (1985) (listing helps eliminate client confusion about the status of employees who speak or correspond with them); Florida, Professional Ethics Committee Advisory Opinion 86-4 (1986) (listing of names and titles of paralegals and legal assistants permitted); Hawaii, Formal Opinion 78-8-19 (1984) (listing of names and titles of paralegals or legal assistants permitted provided information is not false, fraudulent, misleading, or deceptive); Illinois, State Bar Association Advisory Opinion 81-4 (undated) and Advisory Opinion 87-1 (1987) (non-legal personnel may be listed if clearly identified as such); Mississippi, Ethics Opinion 93 (1984) (listing of names and paralegals or other non-legal employees permitted provided non-legal status is clearly indicated); Virginia Ethics Opinion 970 (1987) (listing of name and title of law firm's chief investigator permitted so long as listing includes affirmative statement that investigator is not licensed to practice law); and Wisconsin Ethics Opinion E-85-6 (1985) (listing of legal assistants' names permitted; their employment is relevant to the lawyer's ability to provide legal services).
Footnote: 3 3It is our understanding that the New Jersey Supreme Court's Committee on Paralegal Education and Regulation is currently considering a proposed revision of this definition. However, the proposed revision, if adopted, would in no way alter the substance or scope of this opinion.

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