Designation of "J.D." or "Doctor" ;
"Ph.D."; Foreign Language Fluency
Reversing Prior Opinions 321 and 159
An inquirer poses two questions. (1) May the holder of a
Ph.D., as well as a J.D., who admitted to the bar of the State of
New Jersey, be addressed as "Doctor" when appearing before the
courts, as well as in other legally related matters? (2) How, if
at all, can the holder of a Ph.D. in Spanish who is also a
practicing attorney in the State of New Jersey, refer to fluency in
Spanish in advertising? Can the card or letterhead of such an
attorney say, for example, "Se hable Espanol" or "Ph.D. in Spanish"
or "Bi lingual Attorney: Spanish/English"?
The answer to the first question is that the holder of a J.D. degree, who is admitted to the bar of the State of New Jersey, may use that degree and the title "Doctor" since the degree indicates his training in the law. Our Opinion 321, 98 N.J.L.J. 977 (1975), indicated to the contrary, but was issued at a time before the adoption on January 26, 1979, to be effective April 1, 1979, of the new Disciplinary Rules relating to advertising. Opinion 321, disapproving such use, was based upon the premise that our Supreme Court had not adopted the provisions of DR 2-102(F) of the Code of Professional Responsibility adopted by the American Bar Association effective January 1, 1970, as subsequently amended. In 1979, however, the New Jersey Supreme Court adopted the provision in question which is now contained in DR 2-102(E), which read as follows:
Nothing contained herein shall prohibit a lawyer from using or permitting the use of, in connection with his name, an earned degree or title derived therefrom indicating his training in the law.
Clearly, therefore, a lawyer is now permitted to use the degree J.D. and the title "Doctor" in connection with his practice. ABA Committee on Professional Ethics, Informal Opinion No. 1151 (Feb. 25, 1970), 1152 (Feb. 25, 1970), 1247 (Oct. 18, 1972) are in accord. The last Opinion 1247, however, also clearly indicates that the holder of a Ph.D. should not list or use that degree since the rule does not permit the listing of earned degrees or titles which do not indicate training in the law. The foregoing also disposes of one part of the inquiry in question 2. Thus, the use of the phrase "Ph.D. in Spanish" is improper on an attorney's card or letterhead.
Other than the foregoing, as we have recently stated in our Opinion 453, 105 N.J.L.J. 362 (1980), this Committee does not approve or disapprove particular forms of advertising. We, therefore, neither approve not disapprove the indication of fluency in Spanish in a lawyer's advertising. Our Opinion 159, 92 N.J.L.J. 721 (1969) disapproving this practice, however, should no longer be considered effective from and after April 1, 1979, the effective date of the amendment to Disciplinary Rule 2-102.