TOPIC: Announcements; Employment of
DIGEST: A law firm may issue an announcement regarding its employment
of a law student or other nonlawyer provided the announcement makes
clear the fact that the person is not a lawyer and is working in a
CODE: DRs 2-101(A), 2-101(D), 2-102(A), 2-102(A)(2).
May a law firm issue an announcement regarding its employment of
a law student or other nonlawyer, so long as the announcement makes
clear that the person employed is not a lawyer?
A law firm asks whether it may issue an announcement regarding its
employment of a law student who assisted the firm will continue to
work for the firm during his last year of law school and thereafter.
The student has an extensive professional background and significant
acquaintances in a field in which the firm practices. As a result,
the firm wishes to publicize the law student’s relationship with
it. The firm intends to make clear in the announcement that the assistant
is still in school and not yet admitted to practice as a lawyer; in
addition, the announcement will not purport to solicit business for
The relevant section of the Code of Professional Responsibility is
DR 2- 102(A)(2), which states:
A lawyer or law firm may use professional cards, professional announcements,
office signs, letterheads or similar professional notices or devices,
provided the same do not violate any statute or court rule, and are
in accordance with DR2-101, including…[a] professional announcement
card stating new or changed associations or addresses, change of firm
name, or similar matters pertaining to the professional offices of
a lawyer or law firm. It may also state biographical data, the names
of members of the firm in a continuing line of succession. It shall
not state the nature of the practice except as permitted under DR 2-105.
The inquiring law firm, however, wishes to announce the employment
of a nonlawyer. DR 2-102(A) therefore does not strictly apply. The
question, then, is whether a lawyer may disseminate a formal announcement
of the employment of a nonlawyer and, if so, whether the Code of Professional
Responsibility provides appropriate guidelines for such notices?
We have found no opinions on this issue from any ethics committees
within New York State. Those ethics committees from other states that
have addressed the issue of announcements pertaining to nonlawyers
• Hawaii ruled that a paralegal may be listed on professional
notices distributed or mailed by a law firm, provided that the paralegal
is clearly identified as such and no misleading statements are made
as to his or her status in the firm. Hawaii 78-8-19 (1984).
• A 1980 Wisconsin opinion held that a lawyer could not formally
announce that he had hired a paralegal. The Committee reasoned that
a paralegal was not authorized to practice law and could only assist
a lawyer under a lawyer’s supervision. Because a lawyer’s
advertising was limited to the lawyer’s ability to perform legal
services, he could not announce the employment of a nonlawyer. Wisconsin
• Three years later however Wisconsin issued a contrary ruling
regarding another nonlawyer, and approved an announcement by a law
firm that the firm had hired a former official of the state department
of revenue as a “technical assistant in the area of state and
local taxation.” The announcement was to contain a footnote stating
that the person hired was not licensed to practice law. The opinion
stated that “[t]he employment of such a lay assistant may be
relevant to consumers in making an informed decision regarding the
selection of a lawyer and is therefore within the realm of permissible
advertising.” Wisconsin E-83-3.
• South Carolina held that a law firm could not send an announcement
to lawyers and accountants stating that it had hired a nonlawyer to
handle administrative tax matters involving IRS. It deemed such an
announcement misleading in that it might have created an unjustified
expectation that the employee would handle legal matters as a lawyer
and by virtue of prior employment, be able to influence IRS rulings.
South Carolina 83-16.
There are many opinions that address related issues, such as whether
nonlawyers may be listed on a law firm’s letterhead or issued
business cards. Most opinions permit such listings and issuance of
business cards as long as they are not false or misleading. Some opinions
approve the issuance of business cards but not letterhead listings.
Many of the favorable opinions arose from questions involving paralegals
and legal assistants. See, e.g., Chicago 92-3(“[a] law firm may
supply its paralegals business cards containing the paralegal’s
name and non-lawyer position and the firm’s name, address and
telephone number, all listed in a manner compatible with the lawyer
ethics rules”). See generally ABA/BNA Lawyers Manual on Professional
Conduct 81:3007-10 (1995).
We believe that it would be unduly restrictive to prohibit the announcement
of the hiring of a nonlawyer employee solely on the grounds of his
or her status as a nonlawyer, particularly in light of the broad use
of nonlawyer professionals and paraprofessionals today. Law firms now
employ a variety of nonlawyers whose employment is intended both to
support the practice and to attract business, such as paralegals, marketers,
specialists in information technology and scientists of different disciplines.
DR 2-101(D) states that “[a]dvertising and publicity shall be
designed to educate the public to an awareness of legal needs and to
provide information relevant to the selection of the most appropriate
counsel.” Just as the announcement of the employment of a nonlawyer
tax expert or audio-visual expert might provide information enabling
the public to determine the qualifications of a firm, the hiring of
a nonlawyer employee with a particular background might help one decide
that a law firm is well suited to handle a particular issue.
Prohibitions and restrictions on announcements of the hiring of nonlawyers
have been aimed at assuring that the nonlawyer status of the employee
is made clear or preventing lawyers from suggesting that the hiring
of the employee is calculated to achieve some improper advantage for
the firm and its clients. See DR 2 –101(A). Thus, the Committee
concludes that as long as a law firm makes clear in an announcement
that the person employed is working in a nonlawyer capacity, an announcement
that otherwise conforms with the ethical considerations and sections
of the Code would be permissible.
The question presented is answered in the affirmative.
Issued: February 26, 1996