New Jersey Law Firms May Now Use Some Trade Names

In re Letter Decision of the Committee on Attorney Advertising, Docket No. 47-2007, 213 N.J. 171 (2013).  New Jersey Rule of Professional Conduct 7.5 requires that a law firm’s name “include 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 ahve ceased to be associated with the firm through death or retirement.”  That has precluded law firms from adopting “trade names,” such as Alpha Center for Divorce Mediation, P.C. (“Alpha”), the name that the law firm that is the subject of this decision sought to use.  In its decision today, however, the Supreme Court amended RPC 7.5 to permit trade names within certain limits.  Justice Lavecchia wrote the Court’s opinion.

Alpha argued that RPC 7.5 was an unconstitutional restriction on commercial speech.  Justice Lavecchia found no need to reach that issue because the Court decided to amend RPC 7.5 to allow some trade names.  The Court observed that at least forty states permit law firms to use trade names, with no adverse effect of which the Court was aware.  Especially given the increasing incidence of multi-jurisdictional law firms and litigation, the Court decided to change New Jersey’s position on trade names. 

Amended RPC 7.5(e), as quoted in Justice Lavecchia’s opinion, allows a trade name “so long as it describes the nature of the firm’s legal practice in terms that are accurate, descriptive, and informative, but not misleading, comparative, or suggestive of the ability to obtain results.  Such trade names shall be accompanied by the name of the attorney who is responsible for the management of the organization.”  Thus, as the accompanying Official Comment states, “Millburn Tax Law Associates, John Smith, Esq.” or “Millburn Personal Injury Group, John Smith, Esq.” is now permissible, but not “Best Tax Lawyers” or “Tax Fixers.”    

Turning to the actual name at issue, Justice Lavecchia concluded that “Alpha” “adds no informative content other than serving the impermissible purpose of invoking the notion of primacy.”  She relied on dictionary definitions of “alpha” as “first.”  The remainder of the firms’ name– “Center for Divorce Mediation”– “coupled with the inclusion of the name of a managing New Jersey attorney, satisfies the revised RPC 7.5.”