OPINION 437
November 1986

Question Presented

Is it permissible under the Texas Code of Professional Responsibility for a law firm to place on its outside sign (which includes the firm name, the designation "law offices" and the names of attorneys) the name of the law firm's business administrator, who is a full-time employee of the law firm but who is not an attorney, followed by the words "business administrator?"

Discussion

This Committee held in Opinion 426 that a law firm's outdoor sign constitutes publicity and advertising subject to the requirements of Disciplinary Rule ("DR") 2-101. DR 2-101(A) provides in pertinent part that a lawyer shall not make on behalf of himself or any other lawyer "any false or misleading communication about the lawyer or the lawyer's services."

In Opinion 426, this Committee held that it was not permissible under the Texas Code of Professional Responsibility for a law firm to include on an outdoor sign the name of an investigator who was an independent contractor and not a lawyer. The reason given for this conclusion was that the inclusion of the investigator's name in the circumstances presented would have involved a substantial risk of misleading persons seeing the law firm's sign.

The circumstances presented in the present case differ from the circumstances involved in Opinion 426 in that the business administrator is a full-time employee rather than an independent contractor with respect to the law firm and a business administrator would in many circumstances be less likely than an investigator to perform services directly for clients of the law firm. However, in these circumstances as in the situation presented in Opinion 426, there is a risk that people seeing the sign might erroneously conclude that the person listed as performing a specialized function is a licensed lawyer.

Although there may be less likelihood of confusion on the part of the public in the case of a business administrator than is the case of an investigator, listing a business administrator on the firm sign without notation that the business administrator is not licensed to practice law creates a significant risk of violation of DR 2-101(A) by causing some members of the public to believe that the listed business administrator is a lawyer. Accordingly, listing of the business administrator's name and designation as business administrator on a law firm's outside sign would unquestionably be permissible under the Texas Code of Professional Responsibility only if a further notation were added that the listed person was not licensed to practice law. Listing the business administrator with such notation on the sign would involve no violation of the Texas Code of Professional Responsibility since the sign would not in any sense be false or misleading to persons reading the sign.

Conclusion

It is permissible under the Texas Code of Professional Responsibility for a law firm to include on an outside sign for the law firm the name of a business administrator who is a full-time employee of the law firm and who is not an attorney provided the person is designated as a business administrator and it is indicated on the sign that the person is not licensed to practice law.