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                                         120 N.J.L.J. 789
                                        October 29, 1987


Appointed by the New Jersey Supreme Court


Firm Name: Disapproval of Name
Containing the Word "Associates"

    The inquirer is the principal of a law firm. He employs one other attorney as an associate of that firm. The inquirer would like to call his firm "X Associates," where the name "X" is the inquirer's last name. He is aware that the more frequently used designation would be "X and Associates," but he prefers not to adopt this particular form because he believes his proposed name is more distinctive and that the applicable rule "does not prohibit individuality or require absolute uniformity, nor should it."
    The Committee disagrees with the inquirer's position and interprets RPC 7.5(a) as requiring absolute uniformity in the format of firm names. In relevant part, the rule reads:
        Except for nonprofit legal aid or public interest law firms, the name under which a lawyer or law firm practices shall contain only the full or last name of one or more of the lawyers in the firm or office or the names of a person or persons who have ceased to be associated with the firm through death or retirement.

    On its face, this rule prohibits a firm name from containing any word or phrase other than proper names. It further limits the proper names that are acceptable (i.e., those of lawyers actively practicing with the firm, and those who had been active but have retired or died). These prohibitions impose the very type of uniformity that the inquirer denies.

    Under this reading of RPC 7.5(a), the inquirer cannot call his firm "X Associates." Moreover, the rule also precludes use of the phrase "and Associates" in a firm name, notwithstanding two prior opinions of the Advisory Committee on Professional Ethics approving this designation. Opinion 224, 94 N.J.L.J. 1206 (1971); Opinion 479, 107 N.J.L.J. 329 (1981). RPC 7.5(a) differs from the respective disciplinary rules under which those opinions were decided. The Committee finds the current rule more restrictive in its scope of permissible firm names.
    The Committee is, of course, mindful that the restrictions imposed by RPC 7.5(a) might be modified by other rules of court. Thus, under R. 1:21-1A(c), a law firm practicing as a professional corporation must specify its corporate status, and this specification is itself part of the firm name. Opinion 1, 120 N.J.L.J. 476 (1987). However, in the situation presented by this inquiry, there is no indication that RPC 7.5(a) is to be read in conjunction with any other court rule.
    The Committee notes one final reason for rejecting the inquirer's proposal. The firm name is misleading under RPC 7.1(a)(1). It implies that there are multiple associates when, in fact, the inquirer employs only one.

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