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Out-of-State Law Firm Can’t Use Trade Name in New York, Bar Says

Jan. 22, 2020, 6:00 PM

Out-of-state law firms that practice under a trade name can’t use that name for offices they open in New York, the state bar association’s ethics committee has said.

Although “the cross-jurisdictional practice of law is becoming more common” and other states may allow the use of trade names, New York ethics rules prohibit it, according to a Jan. 17 opinion.

American Bar Association Model Rule of Professional Conduct 7.1 allows the use of trade names that aren’t false or misleading.

A New York attorney looking to open an office there for a California law firm that practices under a trade name posed the question of whether trade name use would be viable.

The attorney said the New York ethics rule deprives the firm of the good will embedded in the California trade name, frustrating its ability “to exploit the benefits associated with the name in connection with the New York office,” according to the committee.

New York law firms have to include the name of a current or deceased partner and can’t have names like “The Business Dispute Clinic,” the opinion said.

“No ambiguity clouds this rule,” it said.

Furthermore, attorneys licensed only in New York can’t be of counsel to an out-of-state firm practicing under a trade name in a state that permits the use of trade names, it said.

But New York’s prohibition doesn’t entirely deprive the California firm of the good will associated with its name, because the New York office is permitted to say, for example, that the firm “practices in California under firm name XYZ,” the opinion said.

The opinion is N.Y.S. Bar Ass’n Comm. on Prof’l Ethics, Op. 1179, 1/17/20.

To contact the reporter on this story: Melissa Heelan Stanzione in Washington at mstanzione@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Jessie Kokrda Kamens at jkamens@bloomberglaw.com; Rebekah Mintzer at rmintzer@bloomberglaw.com