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                                     123 N.J.L.J. 638
                                    March 16, 1989


Appointed by the New Jersey Supreme Court


Firm Name: Law Firm Practicing
Under Different Names in Different
Locations Within the State

    The Committee has received an inquiry from a law firm practicing under the name "A, B, C, D & E" which would like to merge and form a separate firm with a sole practitioner in another part of the State to be known as "A & X" or "A, B & X." Well- established in its geographical area, the inquiring firm does not wish to change its name. Nor does it wish to add the sole practitioner's name as it believes the firm name is already too long and would become unwieldy. However, because of his reputation, the firm believes it advisable that the sole practitioner's name be included in the name of the newly formed firm.
    Consequently, the inquiring firm is considering forming a second firm for the limited purpose of advancing the sole practitioner's name. The new firm would be owned in its entirety by and share a commonality of membership with the inquiring firm. All members of the inquiring firm would be listed on both firms' letterheads. The name of the newly formed firm would incorporate the name(s) of one or more, but not all, of the inquiring firm's principal partners and that of the sole practitioner.

    Pursuant to RPC 7.5(a),
        A lawyer shall not use a firm name, letterhead or other professional designation that violates RPC 7.1. 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 names 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. [Emphasis supplied].

In addition, RPC 7.1 states, among other things, that "[a] lawyer shall not make false or misleading communications about the lawyer or the lawyer's services."
    It should initially be pointed out that RPC 7.5(a) concerns the name, not names, under which a lawyer or law firm may practice. The inference is clear that only one name is permissible.
    The inquiring firm's formation of a second firm for the limited purpose of advancing the sole practitioner's name circumvents the rule. The newly formed firm would be owned in its entirety by the inquiring firm. It would in no way function as a separate, distinct, autonomous firm. Rather, it would be but an appendage or satellite office of the parent firm. Moreover, all of the members of the original firm would be members of the newly formed firm and listed as such on its letterhead. Therefore, these lawyers and the inquiring firm would be practicing under more than one name, which is prohibited by RPC 7.5(a).
    The proposed arrangement would also potentially be misleading to members of the general public. It is the potential for misleading the public through the use of multiple or different names in the state which RPC 7.5(a) seeks to address and which use of the two names here might engender. The potential to mislead would arise, in some instances, from the belief that there are two separate law firms engaged in the practice of law located in and sensitive to the concerns of their respective communities and clients. In fact, there is but one firm with a primary and satellite office. In the perception of the public, if not the bar, real or potential conflicts, under the circumstances, might occur but tend to be obscured.
    For the above reasons, we hold that the inquiring firm may not engage in the practice of law under more than one name.

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