The use of the disclaimer "An Association of Attorneys" following the names of the members of an association is a proper method of identifying the members of the law firm and no additional disclaimer is required.
Formal Ethics Opinion 84-F-64 states:
... the term 'An Association of Attorneys' is not the only appropriate disclaimer to use in designating that the arrangement is, in fact, not a partnership. The average client or the general public will not perceive such a term as meaning that no partnership exists. An additional disclaimer is necessary and, therefore, the term 'Not a Partnership' must be included in any arrangement where a partnership does not exist.
The use of such a disclaimer is necessary not only to indicate to the public the limited liability of the individual members of the association, but also to indicate to the legal community the exact nature of the association.
This logic appears to terminate the usefulness of the phrase "An Association of Attorneys" which is intended to designate the absence of a partnership. The previous opinion 84-F-64 indicates that the phrase is a technical term not understood by the general public or the average client to indicate the absence of a partnership. The opinion further implies that the general public or the average client is placed on notice of the limited liability of the members of law firm by the use of the additional disclaimer. This is erroneous. The general public or average client is not aware of either the elements of a partnership versus a corporation or association, or of the protection or lack thereof associated with each.
Individual attorneys as well as two or more law firms are permitted to practice law as an association. It is recognized that in numerous instances, attorneys practice under the firm name of "A.B.C. Law Offices" with no disclaimer at all, thus implying a partnership. The interest of the legal profession and the general public will be better served by having a reasonable rule of only requiring the designation of "An Association of Attorneys" that will be followed and enforced when no partnership exists, rather than having a harsh rule requiring the additional disclaimer which may be ignored and unenforced. The harshness of the rule can be clearly manifested by carrying the rule one step further to require a law partnership to state, "A.B.C. Law Office, A Partnership, Not a Corporation."
Therefore, the dictum of 84-F-64 cited hereinabove is vacated.
The use of the disclaimer "An Association of Attorneys" following the names of the members of an association is a proper method of identify the members of the law firm and no additional disclaimer is required.
This 17th day of October, 1984.
O. B. Hofstetter, Jr., Chairman
William R. Willis
APPROVED AND ADOPTED BY THE BOARD