For example, consider several cases:

  1. Layperson with no formal legal education
  2. Current law school student
  3. Law school dropout
  4. Graduated law school, but did not pass the bar
  5. Passed the bar, but did not attend law school
  6. Graduated law school, was admitted to the bar, but does not have an active license
  7. Graduated law school, was admitted to the bar, and is an attorney in private practice
  8. Graduated law school, was admitted to the bar, and is e.g. an attorney for the government
  9. Graduated law school, was admitted to the bar, and is e.g. an engineer doing technical work rather than practicing law
  10. Graduated law school, was admitted to the bar in a state other than the state where s/he is speaking (but not in the state where s/he is speaking)
  11. Graduated law school, was admitted to the bar in a state other than the state where s/he is being heard (but not in the state where s/he is being heard)

I assume that only 4 and 6-11 are allowed to use "JD" after their names (but am not sure; answers can clarify that.) Of the folks described above, who is customarily allowed to use "Esq." after their names? Under what conditions, if any, would a person choose one or the other (or neither or both)?

If needed, feel free to distinguish between any formal requirements and what others experienced in practice would expect or find offensive.

  • I use JD. IMHO, the title "esquire" runs afoul of Art. I sect. 9. – user3344003 Apr 27 '16 at 20:17

You have to have been admitted to the bar somewhere in order to use the title in commerce. Otherwise you are engaged in a deceptive trade practice and are in violation of the rules of professional responsibility.

If you are using it outside of commerce, the First Amendment means you can still use it, but of course you may have a bit more trouble getting admitted to the bar afterwords if you do because if it came up you would have to convince the bar association that you had not been using it inappropriately. You have the burden of showing your fitness to practice law.

Depending on how you use it, you may or may not have to be an active member of the bar or admitted in the particular state you are in. For example, a retired attorney could probably still use it, provided he was not using it for deceptive commercial reasons. If you are using it to generate business in a given state as part of the unauthorized practice of law in that state, the fact that you were using it would be a fact used against you in court.

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  • Can you provide any citation to back this up? It sounds plausible, but it's not a trademarked term, and in British usage it is unrelated to the practice of law. – feetwet Apr 28 '16 at 2:24
  • Not that wikipedia is terribly reliable, but see en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Esquire#Usage_in_the_United_States. The question is not a legal prohibition on using the term, but rather the fact that using the term (in the United States) suggests you are an attorney, so using it in commerce if you are not one can easily be seen as deceptive. – Tom Apr 28 '16 at 3:00
  • You mention being "in violation of the rules of professional responsibility". Are non-lawyers even bound by these rules? Is adherence to those rules a contractual responsibility (that one could avoid by not signing the contract) or are they unilaterally imposed by statute on people meeting certain criteria? – Robert Columbia Dec 20 '19 at 17:48

There are cases where people were engaged in the unauthorized practice of law, such as In The Matter of Wyrick 2 Cal. State Bar Ct.Rptr. 83, Matter of Contempt of Mittower 693 N.E.2d 555. In these cases, the accused had the degree but was no longer licensed to practice, and use of the designation was only one aspect of how they represented themselves as licensed to practice. In State v. Diaz 838 N.E.2d 433, the accused did not have the degree and was never an attorney, but again committed various acts that constituted unauthorized practice – the court opined that "holding oneself out as an attorney by the use of misleading labels, such as 'esquire,' when one is not licensed to practice law may constitute the unauthorized practice of law" (my emphasis).

The ABA summary of unauthorized practice rules only indicates a direct prohibition against using the title by non-attorneys in Arizona, where Rule 31 (B) identifies as sufficient conditions

Using the designations “lawyer,” “attorney at law,” “counselor at law,” “law,” “law office,” “JD,” “Esq.,” or other equivalent words by any person or entity who is not authorized to practice law in this state pursuant to paragraphs (b) or (c) or specially admitted to practice pursuant to Rule 33(d), the use of which is reasonably likely to induce others to believe that the person or entity is authorized to engage in the practice of law in this state.

The interesting test would be whether in lieu of any other indicia of unauthorized practice or any form of commercial deception, the simple use of "Esquire" -- which is not generally know outside legal circles to be considered a reserved term -- could trigger legal consequences.

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