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2005 Formal Ethics Opinion 8

October 21, 2005

URL for Firm Website is Trade Name and Must Register with Bar

 

Opinion rules that the URL for a law firm website is a trade name that must register with the North Carolina State Bar and meet the requirements of Rule 7.5(a).

 

Inquiry:

 

Rule 7.5(a) provides as follows:

 

A trade name may be used by a lawyer in private practice if it does not imply a connection with a government agency or with a public or charitable legal services organization and is not false or misleading in violation of Rule 7.1. Every trade name used by a law firm shall be registered with the North Carolina State Bar for a determination of whether the name is misleading.1

 

Attorney V is setting up a website and would like to use a Uniform Resource Locator (URL) for the website that is not the same as the name of his law firm. Does Attorney V have to register the URL with the State Bar as a trade name?

 

Opinion:

 

Yes. A trade name is any designation adopted and used by a lawyer or a law firm to identify the lawyer, the firm, or the services rendered by the lawyer or firm. The comment to the rule clearly contemplates that a URL may be a trade name for a firm. As noted in Comment [1] of the rule, "[a] lawyer or law firm may also be designated by a distinctive website address or comparable professional designation." Therefore, if a URL for a law firm's website is more than a minor variation on the official name of the firm, it must be registered with the State Bar in accordance with Rule 7.5(a) and the conditions and limitations on registration set forth in Comment [1].

 

Endnote

1. To register a trade name, a lawyer must complete and submit an Application for Trade Name Registration to the State Bar. This form can be found on the State Bar website at www.ncstatebar.org. (Click "Forms" on the home page menu.) There is no fee for applying. The application will be reviewed to determine whether the requested trade name is misleading. If the name is approved and registered, the lawyer will receive a certificate of registration.

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