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NY Court Reverses Rule Banning Law Firms from Using Trade Names

The administrative board for the New York Unified Court System has lifted an old ban that prevented law firms from advertising based on trade names or domain names. This update to the rules of legal ethics will bring New York closer in line with other states that already permit the use of trade names in attorney advertising. However, there are still some cases where attorneys might get in trouble for advertising, depending on what trade name they choose for themselves.

The old ban, codified under Rule 7.5(b) of the New York Rules of Professional Conduct, prevented attorneys from advertising their practices based on a trade name. This meant that law firms could not effectively establish a “brand,” instead requiring them to identify themselves by the partners in their firm. The newly revised rule will allow attorneys in New York to begin using trade names, based on a First Amendment challenge that argued the ban was overly broad.

There are a few exceptions to this new rule that law firms should be aware of before they begin registering trademarks for their law firms, however. First, terms like “legal clinic,” “legal aid,” “legal assistance office,” and other phrases that denote pro bono legal services can still only be used by qualified legal assistance organizations. Second, attorneys cannot use names that are considered fraudulent or misleading, and attorneys must still be clear about what their services are and what they are charging for it.

Additionally, the board also instituted a rule change that will allow pro bono attorneys to give financial assistance to low-income clients. The rule change came about due to the financial hardship caused by the coronavirus pandemic, while lawyers were previously prevented from giving direct financial aid to their clients. However, pro bono attorneys should be aware that they are not permitted to give loans or other forms of assistance that would cause a client to be “financially beholden” to the attorney.

If you have questions regarding New York’s attorney advertising rules or would like to explore ethical advertising and marketing programs for your practice, contact PR4Lawyers‘ John Zaher at (631) 207-1057, ext. 107.

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