Bar Counsel Notes: Advertising

Question:

If a deceased attorney’s name appears within the law firm’s name on its letterhead and/or within its “lawyer listing” within that letterhead, must there be an indication that the attorney is deceased?

Answer:

No regarding the law firm’s name, and Yes concerning the lawyer listing. This matter is addressed in Professional Ethics Commission Opinion #77 concerning then applicable (now abrogated) Maine Bar Rule 3.9, and then in its enduring opinion of April 2014. Under Opinion #77 and that more current informal enduring opinion, it is not misleading or deceptive to retain a deceased attorney’s name in the firm’s letterhead. However, in order to not deceive or mislead the public in any listing of lawyers on that letterhead – or on business cards – deceased attorney members of the law firm must be so identified in some manner, e.g. John Smith (1900 – 1987). The current applicable Rules are MRPC 7.1 and 7.5(a).

*Disclaimer: The Informal Ethics Advisory Notes from Bar Counsel are intended as outreach by the office of Bar Counsel for the use and benefit of the Maine bar. These scenarios are drawn from actual telephone calls received by the attorneys in the office of Bar Counsel in the course of providing informal advice on the Code of Professional Responsibility, known as Bar Counsel's "Ethics Hotline." The particular advice in each case is limited with reference to the particular factual situation related by the inquiring attorney who must be inquiring about his or her own conduct or the conduct of a member of his or her firm. We do not provide any advice to one attorney about the conduct of another attorney unless they are members of the same law firm. In the telephone opinions, we usually explore and discuss additional factual variables. However, I have attempted to pare down these factual scenarios to make the email newsletter more readable and useful in a general sense. Obviously, that creates the risk that slight variations on the facts, to a learned reader, may give rise to a different analysis and conclusion.