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Rule 7.5 Firm Names and Letterheads

(a) A lawyer shall not use a firm name, letterhead, or other professional designation that violates Rule 7.1. A trade name may be used by a lawyer in private practice if it does not imply a connection with a government agency or with a public or charitable legal services organization and is not false or misleading in violation of Rule 7.1. Every trade name used by a law firm shall be registered with the North Carolina State Bar for a determination of whether the name is misleading.

(b) A law firm with offices in more than one jurisdiction may use the same name or other professional designation in each jurisdiction, but identification of the lawyers in an office of the firm shall indicate the jurisdictional limitations on those not licensed to practice in the jurisdiction where the office is located.

(c) A law firm maintaining offices only in North Carolina may not list any person not licensed to practice law in North Carolina as a lawyer affiliated with the firm unless the listing properly identifies the jurisdiction in which the lawyer is licensed and states that the lawyer is not licensed in North Carolina.

(d) The name of a lawyer holding a public office shall not be used in the name of a law firm, or in communications on its behalf, during any substantial period in which the lawyer is not actively and regularly practicing with the firm, whether or not the lawyer is precluded from practicing law.

(e) Lawyers may state or imply that they practice in a partnership or other professional organization only when that is the fact.


[1] A firm may be designated by the names of all or some of its members, by the names of deceased or retired members where there has been a continuing succession in the firm's identity, or by a trade name such as the "ABC Legal Clinic." A lawyer or law firm may also be designated by a distinctive website address or comparable professional designation. Use of trade names in law practice is acceptable so long as they are not misleading and are otherwise in conformance with the rules and regulations of the State Bar. If a private firm uses a trade name that includes a geographical name such as "Springfield Legal Clinic," an express disclaimer that it is not a public legal aid agency may be required to avoid a misleading implication. A firm name that includes the surname of a deceased or retired principal is, strictly speaking, a trade name. However, the use of such names, as well as designations such as "Law Offices of John Doe," "Smith and Associates," and "Jones Law Firm" are useful means of identification and are permissible without registration with the State Bar. However, it is misleading to use the surname of a lawyer not associated with the firm or a predecessor of the firm. It is also misleading to use a designation such as "Smith and Associates" for a solo practice. The name of a retired principal may be used in the name of a law firm only if the principal has ceased the practice of law.

[2] This rule does not prohibit the employment by a law firm of a lawyer who is licensed to practice in another jurisdiction, but not in North Carolina, provided the lawyer's practice is limited to areas that do not require a North Carolina law license such as immigration law, federal tort claims, military law, and the like. The lawyer's name may be included in the firm letterhead, provided all communications by such lawyer on behalf of the firm indicate the jurisdiction in which the lawyer is licensed as well as the fact that the lawyer is not licensed in North Carolina. If law offices are maintained in another jurisdiction, the law firm is an interstate law firm and must register with the North Carolina State Bar as required by 27 N.C.A.C. 1E, Section .0200.

[3] Nothing in these rules shall be construed to confer the right to practice North Carolina law upon any lawyer not licensed to practice law in North Carolina. See , however , Rule 5.5.

[4] With regard to paragraph (e), lawyers sharing office facilities, but who are not in fact associated with each other in a law firm, may not denominate themselves as, for example, "Smith and Jones," for that title suggests that they are practicing law together in a firm.

History Note: Statutory Authority G.S. 84-23

Adopted by the Supreme Court: July 24, 1997

Amendments Approved by the Supreme Court: March 1, 2003; September 22, 2016

Ethics Opinion Notes

CPR 22. Where father and son practice as Doe and Doe, son may, upon father's election to a judgeship, identify himself on his letterhead as Richard Doe, attorney at law-successor to Doe & Doe.

CPR 69. A lawyer may be a partner in more than one law firm.

CPR 111. A law firm which has a member taking temporary leave to work for the State may continue using the absent member's name in the firm name and on its letterhead.

CPR 197. It is permissible to cross out a partner's name when he becomes a judge without replacing the stationery on hand.

CPR 211. An attorney licensed in both North Carolina and South Carolina who has an office only in South Carolina and a partner licensed only in South Carolina may practice in North Carolina. His firm should use the same name in North Carolina as it uses in South Carolina and its letterhead should show the jurisdictional limitations of its lawyers.

CPR 213. A law firm may share offices with a common reception area with an accounting firm as long as separate telephones are maintained.

CPR 234. A law firm may operate a legal clinic.

CPR 238. An agreement between a North Carolina lawyer and a lawyer licensed in another state to list each other on their letterhead and to refer cases to each other is improper in the absence of a bona fide partnership.

CPR 248. The use of A and B as a firm name is improper when Attorney A employs Attorney B as an associate.

CPR 256. North Carolina firm may not use the name of an out-of-state firm from which it receives referrals where there is no bona fide interstate partnership.

CPR 265. Attorneys who share offices but are not partners may not answer phone as A, B, and C attorneys, but may answer "law offices." If there is a true partnership, partners must use stationery with the firm letterhead.

CPR 274. It is possible for attorneys to share offices and still represent conflicting interests if they maintain separate telephones and have different secretaries.

CPR 307. An attorney who is also a real estate broker may so indicate on his letterhead. He may operate both businesses from same office.

CPR 330. Letterhead of attorneys in realty business may also show the designation, "attorney at law."

RPC 5. Opinion rules that attorney holding a Juris Doctor degree may not on that basis refer to himself as holding a Doctorate or use the term "Doctor" to refer to himself.

RPC 25. Opinion rules that a North Carolina firm may not list a lawyer licensed elsewhere, but not in North Carolina, as "of counsel" or as a "consulting attorney."

RPC 31. Opinion rules that a law firm in North Carolina may not list on its letterhead a "corresponding" attorney in another location.

RPC 34. Opinion rules that an attorney may be designated as "of counsel" to a North Carolina law firm so long as the attorney is licensed in North Carolina and will have a close, in-house association with the firm which does not involve conflicts of Interest.

RPC 85. Opinion rules that an "of counsel" relationship may exist between lawyers practicing in different towns if the professional relationship is close, regular and personal and the designation is not otherwise false or misleading.

RPC 126. Opinion rules that nonlawyers may be listed as such on the letterhead of lawyers.

2005 Formal Ethics Opinion 8. Opinion rules that the URL for a law firm website is a trade name that must register with the North Carolina State Bar and meet the requirements of Rule 7.5(a).

2005 Formal Ethics Opinion 14. Opinion rules that the URL for a law firm website does not have to include words that identify the site as belonging to a law firm provided the URL is not otherwise misleading.

2006 Formal Ethics Opinion 20. Opinion rules that a law firm may not continue to use a former member's surname in the law firm name if the member continues the practice of law with another firm.

2010 Formal Ethics Opinion 11. Opinion rules that a lawyer may list membership in Million Dollar Advocates Forum, or another organization with a self-laudatory name, on his letterhead only if a disclaimer of similar results and information about the criteria for membership also appears on the letterhead.

2015 Formal Ethics Opinion 9 . Opinion rules that a lawyer who does not own equity in a law firm may be held out to the public by the designation “partner,” “income partner,” or “non-equity partner,” provided the lawyer was officially promoted based upon legitimate criteria and the lawyer complies with the professional responsibilities arising from the designation.

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