Opinion 87-18
(June 1987

By letter, dated June 5, 1987, you requested guidance from the Professional Guidance Committee, which was considered at its June 15, 1987 meeting. You asked for the Committee’s opinion on proposed titles to be given your non-attorney employees when listing their names on your firm letterhead. Specifically you were concerned with calling one employee a paralegal, and also wanted suggestions as to permissible titles for law student employees.

DR2-101(A) provides:

No lawyer shall engage in, utilize or allow any form of advertising that is knowingly false, fraudulent or misleading.

DR2-102(E) provides:

Nothing contained herein shall prohibit a lawyer from using or permitting the use of, in connection with his name, an earned degree or title there from indicating his training in the law.

DR2-105(A)(4) provides:

A lawyer shall not hold himself out publicly as, or imply that he is a recognized or certified specialist except as follows:

(4) A lawyer who is certified as a specialist in a particular field of law or law practice by the authority having jurisdiction under state law over the subject of specialization by lawyers may hold himself out as a specialist but only in accordance with the rules prescribed by the authority.

Placing non-attorney employees on law firm letterhead is an issue still being reviewed and undergoing change in many jurisdictions. The Committee addressed this issue in Opinion 81-44, which indicated that a non-lawyer’s name can be included on stationary when the non-lawyer status is clearly indicated.

Regarding your paralegal, the Committee had no objection to your referring to her as such on your stationery. As Pennsylvania does not have any objective standards or regulations regarding the training or licensing of paralegals, delineating who may be referred to as such is not a clear cut issue. Past Committee Opinion 74-1 dealt with this problem:

Terms such as “legal assistant” and “paralegal” suggest specialized training at a recognized school or resulting from some years of experience and actual instruction in a law office, and should be used only by persons possessing the requisite training or experience

Given your employee’s 25 years of experience working in a law firm, being an assistant to the Commissioner of an Administrative Agency and secretary to a Judge, the Committee felt that referring to her as a paralegal would be neither fraudulent, false or misleading and as such is permissible.

Regarding the employee who has finished one year of law school, the Committee unanimously agreed that referring to him as a law clerk” would clearly violate DR2-101(A). To many lay persons as well as attorneys, the term law clerk” implies that the individual has graduated from law school. The most common example of this is when a lawyer, for the first one or two years after graduation from law school, takes employment as a judge’s law clerk”. The Committee feels it appropriate to refer to this individual on the stationery as “law student” since this clearly reflects without confusion the status of his training, i.e., currently in law school.

Regarding the employee who has finished one year of law school and a portion of the required credits for a combined JD/Ph.D. program, the Committee had the same objection as above to using the term “aw clerk”. However, in addition, the Committee felt that the other phrases suggested in your letter of inquiry, specifically JD/Ph.D. Intern, Law Clerk/Psychology Intern, Law/ Psychology Intern, Law Clerk/Ph.D. Candidate, and Law Clerk/ Doctoral Candidate would all be violative of DR2-101(A), DR2-102(E) and DR2-105(A). Use of the word intern or “doctoral”, especially in connection with the medical area of psychology implies graduation from some sort of educational program. A doctor who is in his first year of post-graduate training is referred to as an intern. Using the actual degree letters of JD” or Ph.D.” in the title might mislead one to think that these degrees have already been awarded. Finally, the use of the Ph.D.” coupled with candidate” implies a specialization in that area which would violate DR2-105(A) and does not come under the exception to that rule as provided in DR2-105(A)(4).

The Committee cautions you to avoid use of any title which would imply such a specialization, unless there is a certification as noted in the exception to Disciplinary Rules. Moreover, once the Ph.D. degree is awarded, DR2-101(A) would permit you to place that earned degree next to the name on the letterhead. As with the other student employee, “law student” should be included in any title used in order to clearly delineate the status of his legal training.

The Philadelphia Bar Association's Professional Guidance Committee provides, upon request, advice for lawyers facing or anticipating facing ethical dilemmas. Advice is based on the consideration of the facts of the particular inquirer's situation and the Rules of Professional Conduct as promulgated by the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania. The Committee's opinions are advisory only and are based upon the facts set forth. The opinions are not binding upon the Disciplinary Board of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania or any other Court. They carry only such weight as an appropriate reviewing authority may choose to give it.