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What’s in a “Trade” Name? Registration Requirement Eliminated

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Lawyers are likely aware of the new advertising rules that were certified by the NC Supreme Court in May 2021.  But what you may not have noticed is that the requirement for State Bar registration of trade names, appearing in prior Rule 7.5(a), has been eliminated.  This means that attorneys are no longer required to seek trade name approval from the State Bar.  No more submitting forms and then waiting on a reply before launching a new website such as “callyourlitigators.com” or holding yourself out as “NC Litigation Law Group.”

But this does not mean attorneys are free to advertise using any name they want.  Here are the requirements that are still in place:

  • The trade name cannot be false or misleading pursuant to Rule 7.1
  • The trade name cannot imply a connection with a government agency or with a public or charitable legal services organization
  • The trade name may not include a professional entity designation such as PC, PA, or PLLC
  • If the firm name contains the name of a deceased or retired principal, there must have been a continuity in succession of the law firm (i.e., deceased or retired partner had to be a former principal of the firm or predecessor firm)
  • Use of a retired principal’s name in the firm name is only appropriate if the principal has ceased the practice of law
  • You must still file a certificate of assumed name with the register of deeds in the county in which business is conducted under an assumed name pursuant to N.C. Gen. Stat. §66-71.1 et al. and follow any other requirements under the law relative to trade or assumed names.  If a law firm is engaged in business in multiple counties, filing is required in only one of those counties.

You must still use care before choosing how to hold yourself out to the public through any trade name, distinctive URL (e.g., NCestateplanatty), social media username, or online handle.  The trade name may not compare your services with others (e.g., bestNCattorney.com is still prohibited) or imply a promised result (e.g., winbig.com).  If the State Bar is no longer registering trade names, then it is also not regulating whether your proposed trade name is substantially similar to another being used.  I would suggest that anyone who plans to use an assumed name first check with the NC Secretary of State’s website for assumed business names already registered in the database.  You can also double check with your register of deeds prior to using a name in that locality.  If you have questions regarding a possible trade name, just give us a call!

ABOUT Deanna S. Brocker Deanna represents attorneys before the State Bar on grievance and disciplinary matters and also counsels attorneys and law firms on various ethics matters. She previously served as Assistant Ethics Counsel to the NC State Bar for over 10 years. To read Deanna's full bio, click here