Legal Insights

What’s in a trade name?

By: January 1, 2017

There is a long tradition in the practice of law: the name of a firm includes the last names of the most prominent partners in the firm. As law has become such a big business over the past decade, the largest law practices in the world reference partners who have long since passed away.

Legal clients have been using trade names to identify their businesses for generations and generations. It is a way to communicate a brand to customers and build a sense of purpose within an organization. I am sure that the firm of Zuckerberg and Associates would have a market capitalization much smaller than Facebook.

Attorneys are controlled by a series of ethical rules that guide their actions. Being a lawyer is much different that being a business person. A lawyer is a trusted advisor who must consider the ethics of every interaction rather than their own self-interest. Requiring someone to put their name on the law firm (or as the rule was many decades ago, to require the name of every partner to be on the firm letterhead), ensured that someone would be accountable to the ethics rules.

Of course we recognize that merely having a series of names on a law firm title has nothing to do with ethics. Beginning in 1979, California permitted law firms to use trade names. And in 1983, the American Bar Association voted to have a new model rule permitting law firms to use trade names rather than just use a series of last names. States were slow to adopt the model rule. Finally in 2013, Arizona joined the trend: trade names are now permitted for law firms in Arizona.
With the change of the calendar to the New Year, we are changing the name of our law firm and are now Radix Law. The firm that I founded nearly a decade ago – The Frutkin Law Firm – has many of the same lawyers, the same values but now just a new name.

Radix means “root” – as in the root of a tree, or the root of a word, or the root of a number. We are rooted right here in Arizona, in contrast to the national firms that put their satellite offices here to take advantage of our growing economy. Our team is a collection of people who may have been raised in different parts of the country, but all of us have chosen Arizona to be our home. It is also an acknowledgement that the law firm has grown from being just a little solo legal practice into a business law firm with almost a dozen lawyers. It isn’t just my law firm anymore. Our lawyers handle business law, litigation, estate planning and bankruptcy out of our office in Scottsdale.

Of course, some new firms have begun to come out with trade names. But we are the first firm to fully embrace the opportunity to develop a brand rather than promote a last name. We made the switch.

My family has been practicing law for nearly 90 years, beginning with my grandfather setting up his law office in one corner of his father’s tailor shop on Main Street in rural Alliance, Ohio. His wife (my grandmother) joined him as one of the first female lawyers in Stark County Ohio a couple decades later. And both of their sons, my father and my uncle, became very prominent lawyers in Cleveland, Ohio. So I come from a long line of law firms with the name “Frutkin” in them. And I’m proud to say that my father spent the final seven years of his career working at our firm.

But the time has come for lawyers to stop focusing on the names of their own lawyers. Our focus needs to be on our clients and our mission to help them. The rules have been changing for decades, but as an industry we have been too slow to embrace change. Clients overwhelmingly see lawyers as the purveyors of “no” rather than the creators of solutions to their problems and catalysts for seizing opportunity.

Lawyers are very fortunate. We’ve seen and helped business owners and individuals navigate the most difficult challenges of their lives. And our experience informs our advice, because we’ve seen many of these situations before.

So just like my grandfather, grandmother, father and uncle, I’ll still be practicing law and helping business owners and individuals navigate complex situations. But beginning now, we’ll be using the name Radix Law; same firm, just a new name..