Should Law Firms Adopt Trade Names?

While it may seem like just about every law firm is and has always been named after two or more white guys, and while one might surmise that this merely reflects a traditional lack of diversity in the profession, there's actually a reason they have remained this way for so long. Until relatively recently, bar rules in a number of states prohibited law firms from using trade names. Instead, they were limited to naming themselves after current, retired, or deceased partners.

However, as of mid-2021, a string of state bars have removed those prohibitions, meaning law firms are now free to use broader trade names.

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The appellate boutique law firm formerly known as Baker Marquart, an 18-lawyer firm founded in 2006 by two former Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan lawyers, changed its name to Waymaker in 2021.

“We wanted to create something that would be more representative of everyone at the firm, not just two Caucasian males,” said Co-Founder Ryan Baker. “It’s more inclusive.”

Fellow Co-Founder Jaime Marquart says the new name embodies the “contributions of a diverse group of talent,” something that “was not represented by my name and Ryan’s.”

In 2020, LawHQ, a Utah-based consumer protection firm, sued disciplinary and bar officials in nine states that still banned law firm trade names. They argued that the bans served no valid purpose and violated the 1st Amendment to boot.

The state bars didn’t fight it, and by 2021, Georgia, Indiana, Mississippi, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Rhode Island, and Texas had all changed their rules to allow law firm trade names, as long as they aren’t false or misleading.

The rule change has a number of potential benefits. For instance, firms looking to move or expand can now do so under a trade name. And firms that adopt a trade name will no longer face pressure from partners to add their name to the masthead – nor will they face the drama that can accompany this.

The change also had a specific benefit for Baker Marquart. While it has become a trend to shorten firm names to just the first name on the masthead, with well-known firms Baker McKenzie, Baker Botts, and Baker Donelson around, this wasn’t really an option.

Baker Marquart put a lot of thought into the switch, hiring a specialist in rebranding and allotting a six-figure budget for the transition. “We didn’t just want to adopt some random noun,” Baker said.

They also didn’t want to confuse current or potential clients. “We worried people would think we merged with another firm or were bought out,” Marquart said. “I would not recommend just slapping a new name on the door and hoping for the best.”

Overall, the law firm now known as Waymaker sees the change as a positive. “Law firms are steeped in tradition,” Marquart said. “But you can miss a lot of opportunities when you’re resistant to change.”