Ethics Opinions from the Bar Association of San Francisco
INFORMAL OPINION 1973-11
A former judge may not be listed on his law firm's stationary as "Judge John Doe."
He may not.
The California State Bar Act and Rules of Professional Conduct do not fully cover the matter of letterheads. Rule 2 of the Rules of Professional Conduct generally prohibits the solicitation of professional employment by advertisement or otherwise, and contains certain provisions relating to signs, cards, directory listings and announcements. Its only reference to letterheads pertains to persons who may be certified as specialists by the California Board of Legal Specialization, prohibiting such persons from indicating that fact on their professional cards, letterheads or office signs.
Canon 27 of the original Canons of Professional Ethics of the American Bar Association also dealt generally with the improper solicitation of professional employment by either direct or indirect advertising. In a series of Informal Opinions interpreting Canon 27, the ABA's Standing Committee on Professional Ethics ruled consistently that a lawyer's letterhead should not reflect his prior political office or judicial connection. These opinions are summarized as follows in the ABA publication Opinions of the Committee on Professional Ethics (1967 Edition and June, 1968 Supplement):
Former Canon 27 was replaced in 1970 by the Disciplinary Rules set forth under Canon 2 of the ABA's Code of Professional Responsibility. DR 2-102 (A) (4) permits a lawyer or law firm to use, if in "dignified" form:
DR 2-105 permits attorneys specializing in certain areas of the law to so designate themselves, but former judges, as such, are not covered by this rule.
DR 2-102 (A) (2) authorizes professional announcement cards stating new or changed associations or addresses, change of firm name, or similar matters pertaining to the professional office of a lawyer or law firm. Such an announcement card "shall not state biographical data except to the extent reasonably necessary to identify the lawyer or to explain the change in his association, but it may state the immediate past position of the lawyer 11 (Emphasis added.)
DR 2-102 (A) (6) permits the publication of an attorney's background, including public or quasi-public offices held, in a reputable law list or legal directory.
The new Disciplinary Rules thus permit a lawyer's designation as a former judge in an announcement card and a published law list, but not in the letterhead of his firm. This distinction is consistent with the earlier interpretations of old Canon 27.
All opinions of the Committee are subject to the following disclaimer:
In using these opinions you should be aware that subsequent judicial opinions and revised rules of professional conduct may have dealt with the areas covered by these ethics opinions.