First Amendment

Law firm calling itself LawHQ sues 9 states for banning law firm trade names

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A Salt Lake City law firm called LawHQ has sued disciplinary and bar officials in nine states that ban the use of trade names for law firms.

A ban on trade names restricts commercial speech in violation of the First Amendment, the nine federal lawsuits allege. LawHQ CEO and managing partner Thomas Alvord announced the suits in a press release and wrote about them in a blog post.

A trade-name ban “serves no valid purpose,” the lawsuits say. “Nobody could claim that consumers would be better protected if trade names were prohibited in other industries—if the law required Facebook, for example, to be called Mark Zuckerberg & Associates or Apple to be called Jobs & Wozniak.

“Law firms are no different. On the contrary, prohibiting firms from using trade names, if anything, makes their names more misleading by replacing memorable and easily distinguishable firm names with the names of partners who are often retired, deceased or unlicensed in the state.”

The nine states targeted are Georgia, Indiana, Mississippi, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Rhode Island and Texas. All require law firm names to include the name of a lawyer practicing at the firm, the suits say.

Alvord said he decided to sue after sending letters to authorities in the nine states asking for approval of his firm’s trade name or assurances they would not take action against the firm. Although one bar discussed the issue in a committee meeting, none gave LawHQ the go-ahead.

According to the lawsuits, previous versions of ABA model ethics rules barred any “false, misleading, assumed or trade name” for law firms. Currently the ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct don’t ban trade names, although they do ban false and misleading communications.

LawHQ says it operates in many states and hopes to have a lawyer in all 50 states by the end of 2020. The firm bills itself a “lawtech” firm that has produced an app for consumers to report spam calls, emails and texts. The firm sues alleged spammers.

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