Use of Business Cards by Non-Lawyer Employee of Law Firm - Extension of Opinion 471

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115 N.J.L.J. 96
January 24, 1985


ADVISORY COMMITTEE ON PROFESSIONAL ETHICS

Appointed by the New Jersey Supreme Court


OPINION 553

Use of Business Cards by
Non-Lawyer Employee of Law
Firm - Extension of Opinion 471

In our Opinion 471, 107 N.J.L.J. 127 (1981), we stated that there was no ethical objection to a non-lawyer assistant having business cards showing the name, address, and telephone number of the law firm, or attorney, for whom that person was employed and with the designation "Office Manager". We pointed out that the names of non-lawyer assistants could not appear on the lawyer's letterhead and that the business card shall only be used in connection with vendors, suppliers, and other personnel with whom the office manager had direct contact in the administration of the law office.
The present inquiry is directed to the limitation of the words "Office Manager" on business cards in connection with the employment of non-lawyer, non-legal assistants. The inquirer points out that law firms throughout the State are using other designations for such individuals like "Administrator, Legal Administrator, Director of Administration, Executive Director, Director of Operations, and Office Manager." The inquirer states that there is even an organization known as "New Jersey Association of Legal Administrators".

In Opinion 471, supra, we cited prior opinions, particularly, Opinion 9, 86 N.J.L.J. 617 (1963), Opinion 296, 98 N.J.L.J. 105 (1975), and the Supplement to Opinion 296, 99 N.J.L.J. 113 (1976). We were principally directing our findings in these cases toward the use of business cards as improper advertising devices and unethical solicitation of business. It was not the intention of this Committee in Opinion 471 to indicate that the designation "Office Manager" was the only designation permitted on the business card of the attorney or the law firm. The inquiry in that case was directed to the use of that particular title. We see no objection to the use of similar titles so long as they are not misleading and accurately designate the duties which the non-lawyer assistant performs for the lawyer or the law firm. Even under the former DR 2-102(A), the use of a professional card was prohibited only if it included a statement or claim that was false, fraudulent, misleading, or deceptive. DR 2-102 is now encompassed within RPC 7.2 - Advertising.
RPC 7.2 authorizes advertising through "public media such as telephone directory, legal directory, newspaper or other periodicals, radio or television, or direct mail written communication." Such advertising must be presented in a dignified manner.
With the advent of Court opinions and rules now permitting advertising, Bates v. State Bar of Arizona, 433 U.S. 350 (1977), some of what we have said in the cited prior opinions is no longer applicable. The lawyer or law firm employing non-lawyer assistants is now held to strict responsibility for the actions of such assistants under RPC 5.3 In subsection (b) of that Rule, the non-lawyer's conduct must be compatible with professional obligations of the lawyer.
Since the lawyer or law firm employing the non-lawyer assistant is responsible for the actions of that person, and may be responsible for damages if any one is misled by the conduct of the non-lawyer assistant (see DiCosala v. Kay, 91 N.J. 159 (1984)), and since the use of such card can no longer be considered improper as advertising or unethical solicitation, we see no reason to prohibit the use on the business card of the actual title which the law firm gives to its non-lawyer assistants.
We affirm our holding in Opinion 471 that the use of such business cards shall be only in connection with the administrative work in the law offices of the non-lawyer assistant.
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