So you’re starting up a solo law practice?
The first thing a prospective client see is your name.
Like anyone starting a new business, coming up with a good name can be the most difficult part! Luckily for us lawyers, we can often just go with our own names.
However, if you’re looking to get a bit creative, this post will go over the applicable rules and give some advice for new solo attorneys.
Ready? Let’s get started.
Step One – Learn the Rules
As with anything related to advertising your law firm to the public (and your name is certainly part of your advertising) – consult your local ethics rules.
Since most of these are based on the Model Rules of Professional Conduct, let’s see what it has to say about law firm names. For reference, you can see the latest version on the ABA’s site here.
Law firm names are discussed in Rule 7, which deals with communications from an attorney. Your name is one of those communications, so you’d better pay attention.
Rule 7 was recently updated just this year. You can grab a clean copy with the latest changes integrated by clicking here to download the PDF.
Each part of Rule 7 deals with a different aspect of attorney communications, but we’re most concerned with 7.1.
7.1 itself says 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 contains a material misrepresentation of fact or law, or omits a fact necessary to make the statement considered as a whole not materially misleading.”
That’s a well-said general statement on being truthful, but what does it have to do with law firm names, specifically?
With these model rules, most of the good stuff is in the comments. The comments to this rule address law firm names directly.
For starters, they make it abundantly clear that “Firm names, letterhead and professional designations are communications concerning a lawyer’s services.” Therefore, your name falls under this rule.
The comment lays out 3 options for naming your law firm:
- The names of all or some of the firm’s current members;
- The names of deceased members (if the firm has carried on after they passed away); or
- A “trade name” that isn’t false or misleading.
For those that don’t deal with business or trademark law, a “trade name” is basically just a name that you use to identify your services to consumers. This is opposed to your “legal name,” which should include some indicator of what your business entity is.
“Apple” is the trade name of Apple, Inc., for example. They don’t always add the “Inc.” on there, even though it’s part of their actual company name (and required in most, if not all, jurisdictions).
Pro Tip: if you’ve formed a professional corporation or limited liability company, but don’t want to go by the full legal name, you will most likely need to file a “DBA” or “Fictitious Business Name” statement in your county or state.
What makes your law firm’s trade name misleading?
According to the rules, any of the following would be considered misleading to the public:
- Implies a connection with a government agency (don’t call your firm “FBI Legal Services,” for example)
- Includes the name of a deceased attorney who was never associated with your firm
- Includes the name of a living attorney who was never associated with your firm or any of its predecessors
- Includes the name of someone who isn’t a lawyer (see Rule 5.7 for rules regarding associated non-legal services)
- Includes the name of a charitable legal services or public organization
For most solos, many of these aren’t going to be an issue, but it’s good to know the full scope of the restrictions you’re facing.
A few more important things:
- You can use a website address or social media username as your firm name, as long as it’s not misleading. Personally, I think that would be extremely silly, so I’d probably avoid that. Would you go to a lawyer whose firm is called www.bestcontractlawyer.com?
- Be careful when using a geographic designation in your firm name – if it’s confusing with the type of name a legal aid clinic or other public organization would have, you may need a disclaimer.
- If you’ve got more than one office in different jurisdictions, you can use the same name in both jurisdictions. However, if there’s only one office, I wouldn’t choose a name with something like “The Law Offices of John Smith,” because it implies multiple offices and multiple attorneys (see #4 below).
- If you’re a solo, don’t choose a name that implies that you have multiple lawyers in the firm. This would be misleading.
- Rule 7.2 prohibits you from holding yourself out as a certified specialist unless you have an actual accredited certification, and that certification is identified “in the communication” (which would be your website, in this case). You don’t want something like “John Smith – certified trademark specialist” to be your name or the title to your website, for example. (Updated 9-18-2020 based on the helpful comment below!)
Hopefully you’ve got the rules down and are ready to start coming up with some names.
Let’s get started with that next step:
Step Two – Brainstorming some solo law firm names
This step can either be really easy or much more complicated.
That depends on whether you’re going to just go with your own name (like I did) or if you want to come up with something a little more clever.
Whether it’s a play on words, a concept that will appeal to your ideal client base, or some hybrid of your name and some other word, the possibilities are endless.
Really, it’s up to your imagination (and sticking to the rules above!).
The important thing about brainstorming is to not hold back. Get a piece of paper and start writing!
There are no mistakes or bad names at this stage. Let it all out.
If you need help brainstorming, there are a few techniques for generating ideas:
- Choose a small period of time (a minute or so) and write down EVERY WORD you can think of that pertains to your business and your ideal clients. This can be about their industry, their feelings, their actions, the legal tasks you’ll do for them – whatever!
- Play around with different spellings and alternate words for the ones you’ve already come up with (synonyms and antonyms could help!)
- Do some role-playing – imagine that you’re a client, and an attorney is walking you through your case. What are some words, feelings, and images that pop up when you think about this?
- Take a break. A fresh look later on can help you immensely.
Hopefully you’ve got a few good ideas through brainstorming.
When in doubt, go with your name!
Step Three – Making sure your name is free to use
Don’t start printing up business cards just yet!
First, you should do a clearance search on your proposed name. As a trademark attorney, I do this kind of thing all the time for clients.
The initial step is to come up with more than 1 name. I generally suggest 5-10, but do your best. You don’t want to fall in love with one, just to see that someone else has taken it already.
Even if you’re just using your name, it’s good to go through this process to see what else is out there. For SEO purposes, having another attorney with the same name (and possibly the same practice area) might be a big problem.
Here are the steps I usually take:
- Do a search on Google and see what comes up. I usually go at least 5 or 10 pages deep to search for exact or near-matches;
- Check the USPTO’s search engine, which will show you existing trademark applications and registered federal trademarks;
- Look on any industry-specific search engines that you can think of.
That’s about it, really. I would search for alternate spellings and similar words, particularly on the USPTO site.
Step Four – Get the domain
The last step is to secure the domain name for your new business.
You first need to make sure it’s available. I generally use Google Domains, since it’s linked up with my Google account and isn’t expensive.
You can search for the domain name on Google Domains, and then buy it if it’s available.
What can you do if your domain is taken?
First, see if the domain is in use by a lawyer or law firm. If so, you may want to pick a different name (this should have come up in the last step, but I’ll forgive you).
If it’s in use, but by a different type of business, there are a couple options:
- Choose a different GTLD. That’s the bit at the end of a domain name, like .com, .org, and .lawyer. I’ll caution you that most people “trust” .com names, so they’re going to be the best. Honestly, I’d prefer to choose a different .com domain before I started picking a .info or other goofy domain name ending.
- Append “law” or “firm” or something else law-related to the proposed domain name and see if that’s available instead.
If the domain isn’t in use, but someone owns it, that means you’ll have to buy it.
That can get pricey.
If you’re trying to keep costs down, you may want to go back to the drawing board, or append another word or two to the domain name to see if that’s available.
If you do buy a domain, make sure you’re doing it through a reputable dealer and that the money is kept in escrow until the transfer is complete.
So, you’ve named your new solo firm and get your domain name.
You’ll need to create a website to go along with it!
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