It’s the most basic existential question for a law office, at least from a marketing perspective: what do you name the firm? This name will be on your business cards, your letterhead and it will be enshrined in the judicial system itself on the documents from your court cases. It’s how people will get to know you and how they’ll remember you.
When you make your decision, here are some key law-firm naming rules to keep in mind.
Rules on branding
Most of the “rules” that we talk about are more just really good suggestions. But when it comes to choosing a brand name, there are some ironclad rules outlined by the American Bar Association and vary state by state.
The ABA’s Rules of Professional Conduct allow for branding only so long it does not mislead the consumer. Ways of misleading would be to imply a connection with a government agency, a popular charity or to give the impression of being a large organization when it’s actually a solo practice.
To pick an example from popular culture, “Law Offices of Alan Shore” would not be a brand name. If the same office were called “Boston Legal,” that would be a brand name. Per the ABA rules, that would be okay—especially since Massachusetts is a state whose ABA chapter allows for brand names. If this same office were in Texas, calling it “Dallas Legal” would run afoul of the ethics code.
This example demonstrates that brand names for a law firm will typically involve putting a specific geographic area or practice area of the law into the title. If our hypothetical firm above wanted to get more specific, they might have called themselves “Back Bay Corporate Defense Team”, “South Boston Criminal Defense” or anything else that narrows the focus and communicates to the public what the firm does.
Most law offices, whether by ethics code or personal choice, opt to name the firm after the partner(s). Presuming you choose that route, remember the following:
- If you have 3 or more partners, review the acronym of your firm name. Make sure that it’s not something embarrassing that will come back to haunt you. You might also want to use a focus group—formal or informal—to test different sequences of each partner’s name, to see which is the easiest for people to remember.
- If the firm is 2 partners, or a sole practitioner’s office, avoid using “And Associates” as an appendage. Most state bars require at least 3 partners before Associates can be claimed. And of course, anyone on your staff that has not passed the bar exam can’t be considered an associate.
- Most states will allow you to use “Offices” as plural, if you name the firm “Law Offices of Alan Shore,” even if you’re the only person working there. The selection of plural can convey an image of success.
It’s important to think long term when you choose your law firm name. You may take on partners. You want something that either fits all circumstances or is easily expanded upon. And while there aren’t many hard and fast rules on what you choose, make sure you’re up to speed on the requirements of your particular state.