PARTNERSHIPIt is unethical for lawyers to practice together under a firm name--which name is used on their stationary, calling cards and office door, in the telephone directory and in answering calls--when the lawyers are not in actual fact operating as a true partnership.
Lawyers A, B, C open up a suite of offices and practice under the firm name of "A, B, C, Attorneys at Law." Their stationary and calling cards, and their office door all have "A, B, C, Attorneys at Law" and is answered by the secretary "A, B and C."
Their partnership agreement consists of a share of expenses plan, whereby each lawyer pays one third of the total costs of rent, stationary, library upkeep, etc. There is no profit sharing plan, but the three lawyers do associate on numerous cases, with each case having a separate and different fee sharing arrangement.
Each client is told when consulting with anyone of the three lawyers that the firm of A, B and C is not a true partnership and that retaining lawyer A does not mean that the client is retaining lawyers B and C; and that retaining lawyer B does not mean the client is retaining lawyers A and C; and that retaining lawyer C does not mean the client is retaining lawyers A and B.
Does this situation constitute a violation of the Canons of Professional Ethics of the State Bar of Texas?
Canon 30 prohibits the use of a firm name which is misleading, and it must be concluded that a firm name is misleading when it indicates a partnership, where, in fact, one does not exist. The committee believes that a firm name on the office door, stationary, calling cards and in the telephone directory unquestionably indicates a partnership and, if the lawyers whose names are so used are not in fact partners, there is a violation of Canon 30.
The fact that a client is told, after being attracted to a non-existent firm, that there is no partnership and that he will be represented only by the lawyer with whom he is dealing does not eliminate the misleading appearance of the firm name insofar as the public generally is concerned.
The present opinion is being rendered in amplification of Texas Opinion No. 67. (9-0.)