102 N.J.L.J. 449
November 16, 1978
Community (Mental Health) Law Project
Stationery Listing Attorneys and Others
This inquiry comes from the Community Mental Health Law
Project of East Orange, which has been recognized as a program to
conduct nonprofit legal services specializing in protecting the
legal rights of mentally handicapped. The inquirer proposes to
practice law under the trade name Community Law Project, a
DR 2-102(B) states in part that:
A lawyer in private practice shall not practice under a trade name, a name that is misleading as to the identity of the lawyer or lawyers practicing under such name, or a firm name containing names other than those of one or more of the lawyers in the firm, except that the name of a professional corporation or professional association shall comply with the laws of the State of New Jersey and the Rules Governing the Courts of the State of New Jersey, indicating the nature of the organization, and if otherwise lawful a firm may use as, or continue to include in, its name the name or names of one or more deceased or retired members of the firm or of a predecessor firm in a continuing line of succession.
The disciplinary rule was specifically designed to prevent the practice of law by a corporation and to preserve the responsibility and accountability of the attorney appearing in the matter. The Legal Aid Society of New York, a long-established public service project, appears in court by its chief attorney, and other attorneys and its employees act only in the name of the chief attorney. Similar appearances are made on behalf of the various public defenders' offices and other organizations designed to assist the indigent. It is felt that the appropriate attorney handling legal matters in New Jersey should he identified on the letterhead and on the pleadings of the Community Law Project. To allow lay persons to conduct the practice of law under the fictitious trade name of the organization, however benevolent and philanthropic its purposes may be, would be in violation of DR 3- 101.
The inquirer asks whether a nonprofit legal services project may allow use of the project's name on the business card of a social service specialist employed by the project. Inasmuch as the business card presumably will indicate that the person named is a social service specialist, and that, coupled with the fact that the project itself proposes only to assist persons previously confined to mental institutions on a nonprofit basis, would appear not to violate standards previously established and despond to prevent the solicitation of legal business by nonlegal persons. Appropriately designed, such card would not appear to be ethically prohibited.
The inquirer further asks whether the project may include on its letterhead the social service specialist's name and title if the letterhead is designed to be used in nonlegal correspondence and it lists, with appropriate identification, those persons who are attorneys and those persons who are social service workers, doctors, nurses or other qualified professional people, there seems to be no ethical prohibition if the stationery were to be used in connection with the conduct of litigation or other attorney-related acts and if the format of the letterhead would confuse the recipient as to whether or not the person using the stationery was a lawyer or a nonlawyer, or would give the impression that the lawyers and non lawyers were associated in the practice of law, then the use of such letterhead would be prohibited. We have previously ruled, in Opinion 296, 98 N.J.L.J. 105 (1975), against advertising for the purposes of soliciting professional employment. The recent decisions of the courts with regard to advertising now permit the public dissemination of information, costs and charges of legal services, etc, but still do not permit champerty, maintenance, or outright solicitation of professional employment. The fine line between advertising and solicitation has yet to be drawn by the New Jersey Supreme Court. In the interim, the ethical propriety of dignified commercial publicity must be the responsibility of the attorneys who disseminate the publicity.