OPINION 440
March 1987

Questions Presented

  1. Under the Texas Code of Professional Responsibility may a law firm use the phrase "personal injury lawyers" on its letterhead and business cards without disclaimer as to individual firm lawyers' certification or non-certification if such letterhead and business cards are not used for initiating contact with prospective clients?
  2. May a law firm use the phrase "personal injury lawyers" on its letterhead and business cards with a disclaimer only as to the individual attorney whose name appears on the letterhead or business card when the letterhead or business card is used to initiate contact with prospective clients?

Discussion

The phrase "personal injury lawyers" when used by a law firm involves an assertion of specialization in the field of Personal Injury Trial Law, which is one of the areas of specialization recognized by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization.

Disciplinary Rule ("DR") 2-104 of the Texas Code of Professional Responsibility provides that, with other exceptions not here applicable, "[a] lawyer shall not hold himself out publicly as a specialist, except as permitted under DR 2-101 . . . ." Included in DR 2-101 are DR 2-101(A)(1), DR 2-101(B) and DR 2-101(C). DR 2-101(A)(1) prohibits communications by lawyers containing material misrepresentations of fact or law. DR 2-101(B) provides that a lawyer who publishes with regard to any area of the law in which he practices must publish the name of the lawyer licensed to practice law in Texas who shall be responsible for the performance of the legal services in the indicated area of law. DR 2-101(C) provides that a lawyer whose name is published pursuant to DR 2-101(B) must state whether or not he has been certified by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization and may further state, if such is the case, that there is no designation by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization for a Certificate of Special Competence in the specified area.

Although in many cases a law firm's use of its letterhead and business cards will not constitute broadcasting or advertising in the common sense of these terms, there is no question that a law firm's printed letterhead and business cards constitute publication and a holding out to the public with respect to any specialization claimed on the printed letterhead or business card. Accordingly, regardless of whether a law firm proposes to use its letterhead and business cards to initiate contact with prospective clients, a law firm's printed letterhead and business cards are subject to the requirements of DR 2-101(B) and (C).

Under the general requirement of DR 2-101(A)(1) that communications not contain material misrepresentations, a law firm may use a specialization claim such as "personal injury lawyers" with respect to the firm as a whole only if all attorneys in the law firm practice in the area of specialization claimed. If such claim may be made, DR 2-101(B) requires that a lawyer or lawyers licensed in Texas who shall be responsible for such practice are to be listed. Moreover, when a specialization claim is made for a law firm as a whole on letterhead or business cards, DR 2-101(C) requires that the certification status with respect to the claimed specialization must be given for each individual lawyer whose name is printed on the letterhead or business card. If all lawyers in the firm do not practice in the area of the law proposed to be listed or if the law firm is unwilling or unable to meet the requirements described above, the law firm may not claim publicly on its printed letterhead or business cards for its lawyers that the firm as a whole has a particular specialty such as "personal injury lawyers." Of course, if no claim as to specialization is made for the law firm as a whole, DR 2-101(B) and (C) and DR 2-104 permit individual lawyers in a firm to be listed with area of practice and certification status on letterhead or business cards.

Conclusion

Regardless of how a law firm proposes to use its printed letterhead and business cards, letterhead and business cards of a law firm may claim an area of specialization for the law firm as a whole only if all lawyers in fact are involved in the area of specialization claimed and if the lawyer or lawyers licensed in Texas who shall be responsible for such practice are listed with their certification status in the area of specialization claimed for the firm. In addition, if letterhead or business cards state a claim of specialization for a law firm, the certification status in the claimed area of specialization must be given for each individual lawyer whose name is printed on the letterhead or business cards. If an area of specialization is not claimed for the law firm as a whole, letterhead or business cards for particular lawyers or groups of lawyers may indicate the area of practice of the lawyer or lawyers listed so long as the certification status of each lawyer is indicated as required by DR 2-101(C).