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March 05, 2015 Practice Points

Philadelphia Bar Association Joins the Law Firm Officer Title Debate

Debate continues over whether law firms may or may not give titles to non-lawyer employees.

By Irwin Warren

The level of debate and disagreement whether law firms may or may not give titles to non-lawyer employees reached new heights when the Philadelphia Bar Association Professional Guidance Committee issued Opinion 2014-8 (January 2015). That opinion expressly disagreed with Texas Opinion 642 and adopted a more nuanced interpretation of Rule 5.4 that turns on the role performed by the non-lawyer rather than the non-lawyer’s title. The committee rejected the view that “any use of the word ‘officer’ or ‘director’ in the title of a non-lawyer employee of a law firm is improper” (emphasis added). Thus, it found that there would be nothing improper with the title “Chief Marketing Officer” or “Director of Legal Hiring.” In contrast, the opinion states that Rule 5.4 “would . . . prohibit a non-lawyer from serving as a corporate director or a corporate officer of a law firm, i.e., someone with management authority over the attorneys,” or using the title “principal.” In the latter regard, the Philadelphia opinion expressly agrees with Texas Opinion 642, but as to the former situations (e.g., a chief information officer or chief technology officer, etc.), Philadelphia expressly disagrees with Texas. 

— Irwin Warren, committee cochair, Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP, New York NY

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