The letter to the editor below is a letter to the editor originally submitted to the Lake County Bar Association. It is reprinted with permission.
All of us who have a law license must obey the Illinois Rules of Professional Conduct. One such rule is 4.1 entitled Truthfulness in Statements to Others. “In the course of representing a client a lawyer shall not knowingly: (a) make a false statement of material fact or law to a third person.” That only applies to representing a client. Rule 7-1 is entitled Communications Concerning a Lawyer’s Services. “A lawyer shall not make a false or misleading communication about the lawyer or lawyer’s services.”
Many lawyers are sole practitioners having one office in one location. However, that does not deter them from advertising or holding themselves out as Joe Lawyer and Associates when he or she has no associates. Many lawyers say that they operate under “Law Offices of Joe Lawyer”. Rule 7.5 is entitled “Firm Name and Letterhead”. Lawyers shall not use a firm name, letterhead or other professional designation that violates rule 4.1. Rule 7.1 set forth above about not making false or misleading communications about the lawyer or the lawyer’s services. Is it a false or misleading communication to advertise that one has law offices when one has only one law office? Is it a false or misleading communication to say that one practices with associates when one does not?
When I first started working in Lake County, there were many law firms that were not true firms or partnerships but merely a collection of lawyers sharing office space, occasionally working on cases together and perhaps sharing fees. Rule 7.5(d) says “lawyers may state or imply that they practice in a partnership or other organization only when that is a fact.” If three lawyers share space, but do not have a true partnership, does it violate rule 7.5 for them to list themselves as the Law Offices of Smith, Jones, and Green?
Misconduct is defined in rule 8.4. The first one is a violation or attempt to violate the Rules of Professional Conduct knowingly or assist or induce another to do so. Rule 8.3 requires a lawyer who knows that another lawyer has committed a violation of 8.4(b) or (c) to report that to the appropriate authority. 8.4(b) deals with committing a criminal act “that reflects adversely on lawyer’s honesty, trustworthiness, or fitness as a lawyer in other respects.” (c) deals with engaging “in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation.”
Is it a misrepresentation or dishonest, or deceitful, for three lawyers, not partners, to hold themselves out as a partnership? For a solo practitioner to say he or she has associates when he or she does not? For a lawyer to say he or she has offices when he or she has only one?
Discuss among yourselves.
Gary L. Schlesinger
July 31, 2019, Lake County Bar Association Docket
Reprinted with permission. Letter to the Editor Re: Rules of Professional Conduct, Illinois State Bar Association’s Section on Civil Practice & Procedure, September 2019 VOL 66 NO. 2