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The use of honorifics and courtesy titles and forms of address for attorneys

The following is just opinion, not an attempt at “news”.  You can find other crimes here but not the crime of “journalism.”

“Attorney” is the only title, form of address or honorific we need.  There are no ranks of attorneys in U.S. law, no formal distinction between the solicitor and the barrister.  “Doctor” for “Juris Doctor” is arguably misleading in a culture where we do not often note a Ph.D. with the honorific “Doctor”; besides, law school didn’t require a dissertation or its peer-reviewed defense.  “Counselor” is a term of address usually used in formal contexts from the bench to an attorney, often when communicating on a topic more blunt than polite; it is a term of respect but denotes a certain assertiveness and “get to it” direction from the bench.  We address our sisters and brothers in the Bar with the courtesy title of “Esquire” – a term previously used for free gentlemen in England and used today in our republic to denote free, independent professionals of all genders – but we do not use it self-referentially.  We could do without it, but it’s probably helpful for the goal of “civility” in the Bar – you know civility, that vague topic of which your local Bar Association cannot get enough?

I defended a worker at an unemployment hearing where my opponent was an attorney from a visiting jurisdiction who, on a social media page, described herself as [Jane Jones] of the Law Office of [Jane Jones], “Founder and Principal Legal Consultant.”  “Attorney” would have sufficed, if any title or reference was needed at all; attorneys whose names are the same as that on the letterhead in a “Law Office of ___________” are the founders and the “principal legal consultants” per se.  Sort of the same way that “Equal Justice Under Law” could be reduced simply to “Justice”, as I believe the late Professor Paul Fussell once noted.

I have litigated against one attorney who advertised the fact that she or he had a Ph.D. in a field that did not pertain to a law practice area.  For example, one might respect a Ph.D. in, say, geology for an attorney who handles exclusively mineral or oil rights, or a Ph.D. in a field appurtenant to patent work, etc.  But this attorney has a Ph.D., and I don’t know what in, but I remember learning what it was and noting that it doesn’t matter.  The opposing client’s case in a business franchise dispute got hurt badly in a deposition I conducted; Dr. Ph.D. Esquire admitted to my boss on the way out the door, “well your associate put a good hurt on our case.”  While that was nice for me in terms of the all-important brown-nosing at that stage of my career, and my big fat ego, I couldn’t help wondering whether Dr. Ph.D. Esquire’s client signed on the bottom line because she thought that the Ph.D. meant something.  It didn’t.  Not one bit.

Scott Greenfield, Esquire, of Simple Justice handled the tale of prosecutor “Dr. Ph.D. Peter Barone, Esquire” well enough so I won’t rehash what he hashed better than I ever would.  For a prosecutor to go around demanding to be called Doctor?  It’s got “wedgie” written all over it.

“Attorney” means that clients – human beings, in the case of my practice – place their affairs in your hands and judgment and hope that you leave them better than they were, and better than they would have been had they not entrusted you.  The honor comes from the work, the trust.  It needs no perfume, no hype, no puffery, no aristocratic pretense in our republic.  It is probably a greater honor to do without the “honors” in an age of hype in the nation that hype to the planet.

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