FIRM NAMES AND LETTERHEADS- It is proper for a law firm to list on its letterhead the name of an out-of-state attorney as "of counsel" if that attorney is a member in good standing of the Mississippi Bar and there is a close, regular and personal relationship between the attorney and the law firm, but the firm may not list the attorney as "tax counsel."
The Ethics Committee of The Mississippi Bar has been requested to render an opinion on the following facts:
A partner in a law firm is withdrawing from the law firm and moving out of state where he will maintain a law practice. The attorney has a L.L.M. in Taxation, and the firm from which he is withdrawing anticipates maintaining a continuing professional relationship in which the attorney is referred taxation questions for research and document drafting. The attorney will maintain his membership in The Mississippi Bar and will comply with all of the requirements thereof.
The Ethics Committee has been requested to opine as to whether the law firm from which the attorney has withdrawn can list the attorney as "Of Counsel" on its letterhead, and further, whether the attorney may be designated "Tax Counsel" on the law firm's letterhead.
M.R.P.C. 7.5(a) states that: A lawyer shall not use a firm name, letterhead or other professional designation that violates Rule 7.1. Rule 7.1 prohibits an attorney from making a false, deceptive or misleading communication about the lawyer or the lawyer's services.
In E.O. 180 (December 7, 1990), this Committee determined that it was ethically permissible for two law firms to list each other as "Of Counsel" as long as the relationship between the two firms is close, regular and personal, and the usage of the title is not otherwise false or misleading. Assuming the relationship between the withdrawing attorney and the firm from which he is withdrawing meets the above criteria, and the attorney maintains his membership in good standing in The Mississippi Bar, it would be permissible for the firm to list the attorney as "Of Counsel".
However, listing the attorney as "Tax Counsel' would not be permissible. Since Mississippi does not recognize certification of legal specialties, and therefore there is no criterion which one is required to meet to become a "Tax Counsel", the use of that designation could be misleading.
However, the comment to Rule 7.5 specifically permits the use of an earned degree or title derived therefrom indicating an attorney's training in law, and therefore the firm may list the attorney as holding an L.L.M. in Taxation. E.O. 186 (June 7, 1991).