Inactive Members: Business Cards and Letterhead
A lawyer who is licensed to practice in three jurisdictions, including
the District of Columbia, and who plans to become an inactive member
of the D.C. Bar cannot indicate that he is admitted to the D.C. Bar
on his letterhead and business cards without further elaboration. To
avoid misleading the public about his present ability to practice law
in the District of Columbia, the lawyer must note his inactive status
once it becomes effective.
A lawyer is currently an active member of the New Jersey, Pennsylvania
and District of Columbia bars.
The lawyer is considering becoming an inactive
member of the District of Columbia Bar in order to be exempt from the
annual District of Columbia Professional License Fee. The lawyer has
never had the occasion to practice law in the District of Columbia since
becoming a member of the D.C. Bar. The lawyer inquires whether he can
state “Admitted to N.J., P.A. and D.C. bars” on his business
cards, business announcements, and letterheads after he becomes an inactive
member of the D.C. Bar.
This inquiry poses the question whether the D.C. Rules of Professional
Conduct permit an inactive member of the D.C. Bar to indicate “Admitted
to N.J., P.A. and D.C. bars” on his business cards and letterhead
without any further explanation. The Committee concludes that it would
be misleading if the lawyer does not indicate his inactive status on
his business cards and letterhead. This omission would violate Rules
7.1 and 7.5.
Rule 7.5 prohibits lawyers from using firm names, letterheads,
or other professional designations that violate Rule 7.1. Rule 7.1,
in turn, prevents a lawyer from making a false or misleading communication
about the lawyer or his services. A communication that is false or misleading
“contains a material misrepresentation of fact or law, or omits
a fact necessary to make the statement considered as a whole not materially
misleading” or “contains an assertion about the lawyer or
the lawyer’s services that cannot be substantiated.” Rules
In Opinion 244, this Committee held that the
name of a nonlawyer partner may be included in the name of a law firm
so long as business cards and letterhead clearly indicate that the nonlawyer
partner is not a lawyer. Similarly, in ABA Informal Opinion 89-1527
(Feb. 22, 1989), the ABA Committee on Ethics and Professional Responsibility
determined that the listing of nonlawyer personnel on a law firm’s
letterhead and business cards is permissible so long as these materials
make it clear that the nonlawyer personnel are not licensed to practice
law and do not exercise control over the law firm’s professional
legal practice. The rationale underlying both Opinion 244 and ABA Informal
Opinion 89-1527 is that failing to distinguish those persons who are
presently permitted to practice law and those who are not, is misleading
under Rule 7.1(a)(1).
Similarly, in Nevada Ethics Opinion 14 (Oct. 8,
1993), the Standing Committee on Ethics and Professional Responsibility
held that a lawyer may list the states where she is currently inactive
on her letterhead so long as it includes a qualification indicating
the lawyer’s inactive status. The Standing Committee recognized
that it would be potentially misleading to the public for the lawyer
not to note her inactive status.
The same rationale applies to the present inquiry.
Once a lawyer becomes an inactive member of the D.C. Bar, it would be
misleading to state, on his letterhead and business cards, that he is
“Admitted to N.J., P.A. and D.C. bars” because this statement
implies a present ability to practice law in this jurisdiction. Rule
II, sec. 4, of the District of Columbia Court of Appeals Rules Governing
the Bar, provides that “[n]o judicial or inactive member shall
be entitled to practice law in the District of Columbia.” The
statement “Admitted to N.J., P.A. and D.C. bars” suggests
that the lawyer is presently permitted to practice in all three jurisdictions.
As Rule II indicates, however, once the lawyer opts for inactive status,
he will no longer be permitted to practice law in the District of Columbia.
It would be misleading for the lawyer to state that he is admitted to
the D.C. Bar without saying anything more. This would create the impression
that the lawyer is presently permitted to practice in D.C. when indeed
he is not. Therefore, a lawyer must note his inactive status on letterhead
and business cards so as not to violate Rule 7.1 and Rule 7.5.
Inquiry No. 95-11-34
Adopted: April 16, 1997