May Attorneys Use Pseudonyms?

In 2012, an ethics opinion from the State Bar of Arizona said that for heir law practice, attorneys should use the same name that matches their bar records, however, for nonlegal activities, such as writing books, attorneys may “adopt any name by which the lawyer chooses to be known.”

Material Misrepresentation and the Ethics Opinion from the State Bar of Arizona

Scott Turow is a highly successful Chicago lawyer and renowned legal fiction writer who practices law in Illinois and writes under his own name.

There’s an unknown Arizona lawyer who is licensed to practice law under one name and writes novels under another name. The next murder mystery novel that you read might have been written by that Arizona lawyer, but you might not even know it. That’s because he or she writes under a pseudonym, and the State Bar of Arizona doesn’t care about a lawyer using another name, so long as the name is unrelated to the practice of law.

An Arizona attorney requested an ethics opinion from the State Bar of Arizona involving the use of a pen name for being the author of novels. He or she may not have been aware of the fact that as an Arizona lawyer, there was a prohibition against making false or misleading statements in connection with the services that he or she renders. That includes a material misrepresentation of fact.

The ethics committee reasoned that if a lawyer practices law under a name that is materially different that he or she is registered under, it’s a material misrepresentation. That’s because a client or somebody else who is given a different name might not be able to confirm that the individual is indeed licensed to practice law and obtain relevant information about the individual. On that basis, the inquirer might not be able to learn whether any disciplinary action has ever been taken against the lawyer. That does nothing to inform or protect the public.

The committee decided that the use of a pen name doesn’t raise issues for nonlegal activities though. Its opinion was that an attorney “can adopt any name by which the lawyer chooses to be known,” so long as “there is no fraudulent or improper motive for doing so.” The ethics committee noted that a writer’s pseudonym is analogous to a female attorney who is intending on marrying and using her husband’s name for social and personal reasons, but wants to continue using her maiden name for professional reasons.

So, there it is. Whoever it is can continue to write whodunits under a different name.