You have asked if there is any ethical or legal prohibition against a law firm trading and doing business under a registered fictitious name in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. You indicate that you are a partnership and are considering operating one department of your law firm using the name of one partner as opposed to the full partnership name. You indicate that you would file the appropriate fictitious name registration with the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
First, the Committee informs you that it only addresses ethical questions regarding proposed actions. As such, the Committee is not empowered to advise you of the legal prohibitions (if any) regarding your proposed conduct.
Rule of Professional Conduct 7.1(a) provides that:
A lawyer shall not make a false or misleading communication about the lawyer or the lawyer's services. A communication is false or misleading if it:
(a) contains a material misrepresentation of fact or law, or omits a fact necessary to make the statement considered as a whole not materially misleading.
Rules 7.5(a) & (d) provide in part that:
(a) A lawyer shall not use a firm name, letterhead or other professional designation that violates Rule 7.1. A trade name may be used by a lawyer in private practice if it does not imply a connection with a government, government agency or with a public or charitable legal services organization and is not otherwise in violation of Rule 7.1....
(d) Lawyers shall not state or imply that they practice in a partnership or other organization (emphasis added), unless that is the fact.
Although use of a trade name or fictitious name is permitted by Rule 7.5, use of one attorney's name for the department implies that it is a sole practice, when in fact that department is part of a larger firm. As such this constitutes a violation of both Rules 7.1(a) and 7.5(d). The Committee's ethical objection to use of such a trade name would be eliminated if that department in the law firm forms its own independent professional corporation. In the alternative, the proposed conduct would be acceptable if letterhead, cards and publicity in general (including but not limited to announcements and advertising) clearly delineates that this department is part of or a division of your law firm.