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A Helping Hand for Texas Law Firms

Jeffrey BrandtIf you haven't yet heard the news, the Texas State Bar's Professional Ethics Committee now forbids non-lawyer processionals to have titles containing the word 'principal' or 'officer.'  Lest you think this is some sort of new routine from Monty Python, sadly it is not.  It is very real.  The first question presented in Opinion 642 is "May a Texas law firm include the terms 'officer' or 'principal' in the job titles of the firm’s non-lawyer employees?"

The objection is raised because, "The term 'officer' in titles such as 'chief executive officer' or 'chief technology officer' indicates that the person holding the title has the power to control either the entire law firm (in the case of 'chief executive officer') or significant areas of the firm’s operations (in the case of 'chief technology officer')."  It goes on to state "The Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct generally do not permit Texas lawyers to allow non-lawyers to have controlling or ownership interests in their law firms."

Now we could discuss the subject of exactly how much power and influence a Chief Marketing/Finance/Information/Knowledge/HR Officer in a law firm really has, but if you've recovered from your laughter and are still following along, let's go the other way.  The objection is to the potential power the position holds and the solution is to disallow two words in a person's title.  Apparently changing the Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct to be more up-to-date and reflective of the 19th, 20th or even 21stcentury, was not an option.

As I have no hold or sway over the Texas State Bar's Professional Ethics Committee to have them change their minds, I thought I'd lend a helping help to the Bar, as well as to the Texas-based law firms impacted by this wondrous decision.  First I might suggest to the Ethics Committee that as one state who has not yet issued an opinion on cloud computing, that perhaps this is a bigger, more important and timely issue that the Committee could be devoting their considerable free time to. 

Now on to new titles.  Sadly, the only ones that are going to make out in this ruling are the stationary and business card stores.  But before law firms can order new cards, they need to have crafted, new, ethically correct titles for those non-lawyer professionals.  The website offers up these synonyms for "officer:"  agent, chief, civil servant, deputy, director, executive, leader, manager, official, representative, appointee, bureaucrat, dignitary, functionary, head, magistrate, officeholder, President, organization administrator and public servant.  For the larger law firms we can toss out director and manager, as those titles often already exist in layers of middle management.  How does 'chief information agent' sound?  Would you buy services from a 'chief marketing leader?'  Now 'chief financial magistrate' has a catchy ring to it.  Would the HR folks like 'chief human resource organization administrator?'  But 'chief knowledge chief' is just outright redundant.  


There is a Canadian website, Dithered, run by Chad Lindstrom that offers up a random title generator.  It generates possibilities such as 'chief architect of organic pricing & analytics' and 'chief enthusiast of enmeshed content innovation.'  The site further suggests that other possibilities to replace 'officer' include interesting terms such as knowledgarian,' 'visionary,' 'regent,' and strategist'  or the ever popular social media titles 'guru' and 'ninja.'  Perhaps those bible belt firms can use missionary, apostle or evangelist in the titles to conform to the new ethics ruling. 

As the original question was narrowly asked, all these new titles are only good until the next opinion is issued by the Bar.  This ruling hits an all new low in respect for non-lawyer professionals working in law firms.  So whatever you do, don't try to have a chief moral officer or a chief fun officer in your law firm.  Both are forbidden in the great state of Texas.


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