September, 1968

SELF-LAUDATION—USE OF TITLES "DOCTOR," "DR." AND "J.D." An attorney engaged in, or intending to engage in, the practice of law, and holding a "J.D." degree may not ethically use any of such titles orally or in writing, professionally or otherwise, subject to certain limited exceptions as set out in the following opinion.

Canon 24.  ABA Canon 27.

Case 1: An attorney holding a Juris Doctor degree in a letter to the editor of a newspaper signs his name "John Doe, J.D.," in a newspaper advertisement supporting a political candidate signs his name as "Dr. John Doe," in general communications uses the appellations "J.D." or "Dr." and causes himself to be addressed as "Dr. John Doe."


Are such practices prohibited by the Canons of Ethics?

Case 2: A licensed attorney holding a Juris Doctor degree is employed full-time by a corporation; his office is in corporate quarters not open to the public except by special pass; his car is parked upon a private parking lot of the corporation not open to the public; within the corporate circle employees of the corporation holding Doctors' degrees are commonly referred to as "Doctor," and nameplates upon their private parking spaces and office doors carry the title "Dr."


To what extent may the lawyer-doctor use or permit to be used the title "Doctor" under these circumstances?


Texas Canon 24 provides in part as follows:

''Indirect advertisements for professional employment such as furnishing or inspiring newspaper comments about causes in which the member is engaged or the importance of the member's position, and all other like self-laudation should be avoided."

ABA Canon 27 provides in part as follows:

"Indirect advertisements for professional employment such as furnishing or inspiring newspaper comments, or procuring his photograph to be published in connection with causes in which the lawyer has been or is engaged or concerning the manner of their conduct, the magnitude of the interest involved, the importance of the lawyer's position, and all other like self-laudation, offend the traditions and lower the tone of our profession and are reprehensible; . . . ."

Under these canons self-laudation is prohibited both because it is a type of advertising or solicitation and because it tends to lower the tone of the profession.

Drinker, Legal Ethics, at page 229, says:

"[A letterhead] may not contain a statement that the lawyer is an M.D. or a C.P.A., tax consultant, Doctor of Jurisprudence . . . or specify other occupations in which he is engaged, or that he is a member of the American Bar Association . . . ; or specify as a branch practiced medical legal law, medical jurisprudence, or any other branch practiced, . . . or state that he is consulting counsel to other lawyers on constitutional cases."

This Committee and the ABA Committee have repeatedly held that all such indications upon letterheads and professional cards are improper. See Texas Opinions 331, 306, 291, and 198, ABA Opinion 183 and ABA Informal Opinions 993 and 1001. In the latter two opinions the ABA Committee expressly disapproved as self-laudatory the use by a practicing lawyer, either verbally or written, of the titles "Doctor" or "J.D."

This Committee, in Opinion 273, and the ABA Committee, in Informal Opinions C-473, ruled that lawyers in writing letters to the editors of newspapers generally should not even identify them-selves as lawyers and the same view would apply to advertisements endorsing political candidates or supporting charitable activities:

See Texas Opinions 304 and 255. A fortiori, an attorney writing letters to the editor or supporting public advertisements of political candidates or public charities may not use the titles "Doctor" or "J.D."

As a general rule, therefore, an attorney may not ethically use the titles "Doctor" or "J.D." in any manner, either directly or indirectly, in relation to his position, his identity or his practice as a lawyer and he should not cause other persons to do so. He may, of course, show the degrees which he holds upon his professional card in approved legal directories as authorized by Canon 39.

 The case of the corporate counsel, however, presents some unique questions which require further consideration. Within the confines of the corporate circles it is common practice for all of the people holding doctors' degrees to be referred to as "Doctor" by associates, secretaries, etc., and it is common practice for the persons holding such degrees to be designated as "Dr." upon the nameplates appearing on their parking spaces and office doors. The use of the title within the corporate confines is a status symbol of some importance and it does not appear that such limited use of the title by the lawyer-doctor would involve any element of solicitation or advertising nor would it have any tendency to lower the tone of the legal profession. Thus, we do not believe that the spirit of Texas Canon 24 or ABA Canon 27 would be violated by such practices. We re-emphasize, however, that in all communications and relationships with the general public, the lawyer should not use the title "Doctor" in any manner nor should he cause or knowingly permit other persons to do so. The line is a narrow one and its control is as much a matter of good taste and common etiquette as it is of legal ethics.

Incidentally involved in the present inquiries is the question of whether an attorney may properly designate himself as "Attorney ____________________." The Canons of Ethics do not prohibit such practice but it is our opinion that it would be in poor taste. (8-0.)