Name Changes!

When a lawyer changes her or his name, most commonly due to marriage or divorce, which name should she or he use for professional purposes?  Can the lawyer use both names?  Name changes often generate questions for lawyers, particularly solo practitioners who have much invested in the name under which they have been practicing.  So we thought it would be helpful to offer some guidance on this topic.

The Bar’s concern is that clients and members of the public should be able to correctly identify a lawyer by checking the Bar’s membership directory, and that the public is not confused or misled by the lawyer’s use of different names.  See Rule 7.5(a).

The name that a lawyer uses for professional purposes should be the same name that is associated with the lawyer in the membership records of the State Bar of Georgia.  Professional purposes include all communications to the public such as firm name, advertising, letterhead, etc. as well as the name used on pleadings and other professional documents.  If the lawyer decides to change his or her name, that change should first be made with the State Bar Membership Department.  The lawyer should only then begin using the new name professionally.  To avoid confusion, the lawyer may include a parenthetical “formerly known as Jane Doe” on documents and public communications for a reasonable transition period.  What the lawyer should not do is practice under two different names.

An extra practice management tip for names:  Make sure you capture aliases in your contact records.  Also, use social security numbers or other constant identifiers for conflicts checking in addition to names so you don’t miss anyone who happens to change their name!

Tina & Natalie

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