Use of the Title "Doctor" in Academia
Opinion rules that a lawyer may use the title "doctor" but only in a post-secondary school academic setting.
Attorney X is licensed to practice law in North Carolina and holds a Juris Doctor degree from an accredited university. Attorney X is working as a full-time college instructor and is not engaged in the private practice of law. RPC 5 prohibits a lawyer from referring to himself as holding a doctorate or using the title "doctor" to refer to himself. Pursuant to the opinion, Attorney X does not refer to herself as "Doctor X." However, the title "doctor" is used by college administrators and faculty with doctorates in fields other than medicine without any apparent risk of misleading students or others within the academic community. The prevailing opinion at the college is that a law degree is of lesser stature or value than other degrees because the title "doctor" does not attach. May Attorney X, and other lawyers who work in academia, use the designation "doctor" within that community?
Yes. RPC 5 provides as follows:
Since it does not appear to be normal practice to refer to a Juris Doctor degree as simply a [d]octorate or to refer to an attorney holding a Juris Doctor degree as "Doctor," the use of those terms without explanation could be misleading and therefore is inappropriate.
Nevertheless, in academic communities, including community colleges and other post-secondary school institutions of higher education, where individuals with doctoral and other advanced degrees comparable to the juris doctor degree are routinely and traditionally referred to as "doctor," it is not misleading and not inappropriate for a person holding a juris doctor degree to refer to himself or herself as "doctor." The use of the designation "doctor," however, is specifically limited: a lawyer may use the designation only when working or otherwise participating in a function associated with a post-secondary school institution of higher education. In all other contexts, a lawyer may not refer to himself or herself as "doctor."