You have brains in your head.
You have feet in your shoes.
You can steer yourself
any direction you choose.
You're on your own. And you know what you know.
And YOU are the guy who'll decide where to go.
~Oh the Places You’ll Go, by Dr. Seuss
But not so fast! If you are going to be a practicing lawyer, you still need to take and pass the bar exam, and then be admitted to a state bar. And in the meantime, while you are studying, taking the bar, and then contemplating “what the heck am I going to do until I’m admitted,” you need to know what you can call yourself professionally?
This is an important consideration that is often overlooked by recent law school graduates. The question is frequently asked of the staff at the Board of Professional Conduct, “Can I call myself lawyer, attorney, counselor, esquire?” And the answer invariably is “No. Not until you are admitted to practice before the bar.” It is important to recognize this distinction because you do not want to run afoul of the ethics rules before you are admitted, or worse not be admitted because of it. See, Disciplinary Counsel v. Cuckler, 2004-Ohio-784; In re Application of Stage, 1998-Ohio-338.
Here is quick guide of how to refer to yourself and when:
- After graduated and studying for the bar exam: “J.D.” and/or indicate “preparing for OH (or whatever state) bar examination”
- After graduated and finished taking bar exam: “J.D.” and/or “awaiting OH (or other state) bar examination results”
- After graduated and passed bar exam, but not yet admitted: “J.D.” and/or “awaiting/pending admission to OH (or other state) bar.”
- After admitted to bar: “J.D.” and/or “lawyer, attorney, or esquire.”
- After graduated, but never admitted to bar: “J.D.”
It is important to keep in mind that you CANNOT refer to yourself as “lawyer, attorney, counselor, esquire” until admitted to a state bar. The six months from graduation to admission may seem long, but it is much shorter than not being admitted because your application is denied. The key is do not refer to yourself as something you are not.
This blog post was provided by Heidi Wagner Dorn, Esq., Counsel for the Board of Professional Conduct, Supreme Court of Ohio, Summer 2015.