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                                         107 N.J.L.J. 127
                                        February 12, 1981



Appointed by the New Jersey Supreme Court


Card of Law Firm - Containing
Non-Lawyer Office Manager's Name

    The inquirer is a member of a law firm which employs a non-lawyer office manager. He inquires whether it would be ethical for the firm to permit its office manager to use a business card containing the office manager's name, the designation "Office Manager," and the name, address and telephone number of the law firm.
    Although this Committee has never addressed this precise point, similar questions were discussed in Opinion 9, 86 N.J.L.J. 617 (1963); Opinion 296, 98 N.J.L.J. 105 (1975); and Opinion 296 (Supplement), 99 N.J.L.J. 113 (1976). Opinion 9, held it unethical for an attorney to permit his name or that of his firm to be placed on the business card of an investigator. Opinion 296, supra, held that it would be unethical for a law firm to permit a full-time investigator-paralegal to use a business card indicating his name, capacity, and the name, address and telephone number of the firm. Opinion 296, supra, also held that it would be improper for the firm to include on its letterhead the name of a full-time non-lawyer investigative employee.

    Opinion 296, supra, as modified by Opinion 296 (Supplement), supra, held, however, that lay assistant may sign letterhead stationery of a law firm involving administrative communications not involving the practice of law to ministerial officials, vendors and others, and that such lay assistants may also sign letterhead stationery of the firm addressed to other administrative personnel, such as court printers, stenographers, court clerks, record custodians and the like. The Supplement recognized that there were two classes of legal paraprofessionals: those who assist lawyers on behalf of clients, and those who are involved in the management of law firms who are not involved in the rendition of legal services. This Committee was of the opinion there that, because of the very nature of the tasks they perform, paralegals of the first class are more apt inadvertently to mislead clients or adverse parties as to their professional status, and that therefore greater restrictions are appropriate. We continue to recognize the validity of that distinction, and feel that it is particularly relevant to the inquiry at hand.
    The dangers foreseen in Opinion 9, supra, and Opinion 296, supra, with regard to non-lawyer investigators included improper advertising, unethical solicitation of employment, aiding the unauthorized practice of law and the use of self-laudatory statements. While all these dangers may be involved even in the well intentioned use of business cards and firm stationery by para- professional investigators, because of the types of persons with whom they deal and the types of tasks they perform, the use of business cards and the signing of firm stationery by non-lawyer office managers would not encounter the same dangers.
    Accordingly, we are of the opinion that it is ethical for a lawyer or a law firm to permit a non-lawyer office manager to use a business card indicating the name of the office manager, the designation "Office Manager," and the name, address and telephone number of the attorney or firm, provided that the office manager's name does not appear on the firm letterhead and that the business cards will be used only in conjunction with vendors, suppliers, and other personnel with whom the office manager has direct contact in the administration of the law office. Nothing in this opinion should, however, be read to permit the use of business cards by other paraprofessional employees or, except as specifically provided by Opinion 296 (Supplement), supra, to permit office managers or other nonlawyers to sign letters written on law firm stationery.

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