98 N.J.L.J. 977
November 20, 1975
Use of "J.D." and
"Doctor" in Academic Position
The following question has been submitted for our advisory
Is it proper for an attorney with a J.D. degree, who is on the faculty at one of the New Jersey State Colleges, to use the title Doctor before his name, solely in connection with his academic position?
The inquirer, a practicing attorney, informs us that he was recently appointed an assistant professor in the Department of Administrative Sciences to teach courses in business law and federal income taxation. He has been using the title "Professor" before his name in connection with all collegiate activities and would like to know if he could use the title of "Doctor" before his name, solely in connection with his position as a faculty member at the college.
The use of degrees by a lawyer was considered in N.J. Advisory Committee on Professional Ethics, Opinion 183, 93 N.J.L.J. 492 (1970), published on July 2, 1970 before the Disciplinary Rules of the Code of Professional Responsibility of the American Bar Association were adopted, as amended, by the Supreme Court of New Jersey that opinion dealt with the propriety of a lawyer using his degree in an announcement to the local bar and to his clients. Such announcement to the local bar was held proper, but improper as to clients. The opinion was based on the Canons of Professional Ethics. Canon 46, but referred to the Code of Professional Responsibility adopted by the American Bar Association and in particular DR 2-102(F) providing as follow:
Nothing contained herein shall prohibit a lawyer from using or permitting the use, in connection with his name, an earned degree or title derived therefrom indicating his training in the law.
The Supreme Court of New Jersey docketed the foregoing subdivision (F) of DR 2-102 before adopting the Code and, therefore, it has no bearing on the ethical standards pertaining to the use of degrees in the State of New Jersey. See also American Bar Association, Standing Committee on Ethics and Responsibility, Informal Opinion 1151 (1970), wherein the committee, in answer to three questions, stated that the use of the degree and the term "Doctor" was permissible under DR 2-102(F), adding.
However, under the Canons of Ethics as interpreted by Formal Opinion 321 of this Committee, the answer to each of them would be in the negative. The actual practice which you may ethically follow will, therefore, be determined by whether or not the Code of Professional Responsibility has been adopted in the jurisdiction in which you practice.
In our Opinion 257, 96 N.J.L.J. 759 (1973), concerning the guidelines and limitations of a lawyer's biographical sketch, we concluded, among other things, that the "use of the degree J.D. is not recommended or approved in New Jersey...." And in Opinion 283, 97 N.J.L.J. 362 (1974), we considered the propriety of an announcement to be sent to lawyers, of the inquirer's availability for specialized legal services. In deciding the question, we disapproved the use of a degree in the announcement in the following language:
With respect to the use of earned degrees, it should be pointed out that the Supreme Court of New Jersey, in adopting the ABA Code of Professional Responsibility, made certain changes. It did not adopt DR 2-102(F).
As was mentioned in N.J. Advisory Committee on Professional Ethics, Opinion 183, 93 N.J.L.J. 492 (1970), the Supreme Court of New Jersey had not, up to that date, adopted the A.B.A. Code of Professional Responsibility, and the comment in that opinion to the effect that "this committee views the ABA Code as persuasive authority" must be accepted as a true statement as of that time. However, when the Supreme Court of New Jersey, at a later date, did not adopt DR 2-102(F), it is obvious that a policy decision, against the use of degrees, was made by the Court, and said provision of the ABA Code would have no bearing, nor constitute persuasive authority in New Jersey. DR 2-102(F) of the ABA Code, and the ruling of that opinion as to the use of degrees should no longer be followed.
The conclusion is that no notation of degree should appear on his stationery or announcement. See Opinion 257, 96 N.J.L.J. 751 (1973).
The use of a degree and the title "Doctor" by a lawyer has been the subject matter of a number of opinions by the American Bar Association Standing Committee on Ethics and Professional Responsibility. The committee's opinions have consistently held that such use was improper "either professionally or socially, and either verbally or in writing." Significant opinions of the committee are Informal Opinions 993 (1967), 1001 (1967), 1064 (1968) and Formal Opinion 321 (1969). In Informal Opinion 993 an attorney asked if he might properly use the initials "J.D." after his name on governmental letterheads, stating that he was not practicing law and did not intend to do so in the future but was a full-time governmental employee in a nonlegal capacity. In answering the question in the affirmative, the committee said, So long as you do not practice law in any way and do not intend to do so hereafter, and if you hold a degree of Juris Doctor, we do not believe there would be any ethical impropriety in your use of the initials J.D. after your name on your governmental letterhead.
The inquirer, in Informal Opinion 1001, supra, asked, "May a lawyer having a J.D. degree use, either verbally or in print, the title 'Doctor' professionally and/or socially and to what extent?" The committee said that he may not do so ethically, adding that:
In our judgment, the use by a lawyer holding a J.D. degree of the term "Doctor" either professionally or socially, and either verbally or in writing, would be a form of self-laudation tending to emphasize the importance of his position.
We are unable to distinguish between the use of academic degrees on a letterhead and their use in written or oral communication with members of the lay public, as in both instances such use can have no purpose other than to emphasize the qualifications and importance of the lawyer.
Informal Opinion 1064, supra, answered several questions on this subject, including the following:
Are the answers to any of the questions different if the attorney were (a) not practicing law; or (b) employed by a corporation?
The committee answered the question in the negative pointing out that Informal Opinion 993, supra, "is strictly limited to, those who 'have clearly left the practice of law and entered upon another full time occupation and do not intend to resume the practice of law.'" The committee was of the opinion that whether a lawyer is in private practice or in government service or corporate employment or any other type of employment regardless of whether the employment requires his admission to the bar he is, nevertheless, employed as a lawyer and subject to the Code of Professional Responsibility unless he "has clearly left the legal profession." The committee said that Formal Opinion 321, supra, was "a conscientious effort to rethink the problem" and was written "because of the large number of inquiries and the substantial and violent disagreement with the Committee's effort in this area in its informal opinions." The problem was considered in two parts, first, "the use of the name of the degree 'J.D.' or 'juris doctor' on letterheads, business cards, shingles, directories, etc.," and second, "the use of the term 'Doctor' in conversation, speech, informal writing and as a part of a given name." As to the first part of the problem the committee concluded that "degree designations are not appropriate on letterheads, cards, shingles, telephone or other directories" with the following exceptions: (1) "in reputable law lists"; (2) on "personal stationery or cards not
showing him as a lawyer or showing his law office address but simply identifying him and his degree"; (3) by "persons in the academic community or persons who have left the practice of law"; and, (4) in dealing "with lawyers and others in countries where the rules are different and where it is appropriate for a lawyer of that country to utilize his degree designation and be called 'Doctor.'" As to the second part of the problem the committee decided that in academia, including persons connected with academia on an ad hoc basis, those holding a J.D. degree would not be violating the Canons by using the term "doctor" in these limited circumstances (on academic occasions and in academic circles), if
the school of graduation thinks of the J.D. degree as a doctor's degree.
It is clear that Formal Opinion 321 (1969) of the American Bar Association, Standing Committee on Ethics and Professional Responsibility has significantly liberalized the use, by lawyers,
of degrees and the title "Doctor" and in those states that have adopted the Code of Professional Responsibility of the American Bar
Association, including DR 2-102(F), all restrictions on such use seem to have been lifted.
The foregoing indicates a growing trend toward approving the use of degrees and the title "Doctor" by lawyers. Our Opinions, above referred to, disapproving the use of degrees and the title "Doctor" have dealt with such use by a lawyer in the course of his practice of law but here we are dealing with their use by a lawyer
solely in connection with his position as a faculty member at a college. After careful consideration, we are of the opinion that the inquirer may ethically use his "J.D." degree and the title "Doctor" limited strictly, however, to his academic position.