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The Ethics of Business Cards & Letterhead Ellen Lockwood, ACP, RP

Ellen Lockwood, ACP, RP
Ellen Lockwood, ACP, RP

More and more paralegals have business cards and have their names included on their firms' letterhead. These are certainly recognition of our increasing stature as professionals. However, there are strict rules in Texas governing these matters.

Business Cards

According to Texas Ethics Opinion 403, a legal assistant may have a business card that includes the name of her employer, provided the status of the legal assistant is clearly disclosed.   Tex. Comm. on Prof l Ethics, Op. 403, 45 Tex. B.J. 78 (1982). Opinion 403 goes on to state that the lawyer-employer who permits his name or the name of his firm to appear on the legal assistant's business card is charged with the responsibility of ensuring that the card meets the same standards of dignity and accuracy as would be required for the lawyer's own card. Ibid.

An appropriate business card for a paralegal would include the following information:

ADAMS, BAKER & COOPER, P.C.
Jane Doe, CLA
Paralegal
111 Main Street, Suite 100
Capital City, Texas  77777

Letterhead

According to Texas Ethics Opinion 436, a law firm may include the names of paralegals and their certifications on its letterhead, but must also include a designation that the person is a legal assistant and is not licensed to practice law. Tex. Comm. on Prof l Ethics, Op. 436, 49 Tex. B.J. 1085 (1986). I have often seen paralegals and their titles listed on firm letterhead, but have rarely seen firms comply with the requirement to include the notice that the paralegal is not licensed to practice law. It is never correct to just list the paralegal's name on firm letterhead, even if the paralegal's certification is included.

This requirement appears to go further than a related ethics opinion. Opinion 381 states it is proper for a legal assistant to write a letter on her law firm's letterhead as long as she is a supervised employee of the firm and her signature includes her legal assistant title. Tex. Ethics Op. 381 (1975). This opinion doesn't include the further requirement to note that the legal assistant isn't licensed to practice law. Perhaps this difference between these ethics opinions is the reason so few firms appear to be familiar with the requirement to include the statement that the legal assistant isn't licensed to practice law.

Sample Letterhead—Correct Form

John Doe
ADAMS, BAKER & COOPER, P.C.
Joe Blow
111 Main Street, Suite 100
Jane Doe, RP*
Capital City, Texas  77777
PACE Registered Paralegal
*not licensed to practice law

Sample Letterhead—Incorrect Form

John Doe
ADAMS, BAKER & COOPER, P.C.
Joe Blow
111 Main Street, Suite 100
Jane Doe, CLA
Capital City, Texas  77777

Sample Letterhead—Incorrect Form

John Doe
ADAMS, BAKER & COOPER, P.C.
Joe Blow
111 Main Street, Suite 100
Jane Doe, CLA
Capital City, Texas  77777
Paralegal

As the samples above indicate, the firm's letterhead must include the paralegal's title, even if it includes the paralegal's certification, as well as a notice that she is not licensed to practice law.

To summarize the requirements:

Business Card Must Include

  • Firm or Company Name 

  • Title

  • May include certifications

Letterhead Must Include

  • Title

  • Notice that legal assistant is not licensed to practice Law

  • May include certifications

Correspondence on Firm Letterhead Signed by Paralegal Must Include (regardless of whether paralegal is listed on letterhead):

  • Title

  • May include certifications

Although the ethics opinions cited above assign the responsibility for compliance to the supervising attorney, it our professional responsibility to know and abide by all ethics rules, particularly the ones that directly affect us.

Ellen Lockwood, CLAS, is the Chair of the Professional Ethics Committee of the Legal Assistants Division, a position she has held since 1997. She is Treasurer of LAD and a past president of the Alamo Area Professional Legal Assistants in San Antonio.

If you have any questions regarding any ethical issue, please contact the Professional Ethics Committee.

Return to the Ethics Articles Home Page

Originally published in the Texas Paralegal Journal © Copyright 2002 by the Legal Assistants Division, State Bar of Texas.


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