Upon graduation, some degrees grant graduates more than a few extra letters at the end of their name. Some degrees are transformative. An MD turns an anal, highlighter-happy med student into a “doctor.” A PhD does the same thing for disheveled grad students. A JD makes you an “esquire.” (Other degrees are not transformative: MBA and masters grads get nothing but debt.)
While the MDs and, to a lesser extent, PhDs get to be called Dr. on a regular basis, no one ever uses “Esquire” aloud. It’s a silent, written title, and that bothers some lawyers, who want an honorific that people actually use in conversation. Lawyers do have Juris Doctorates, after all.
If you’re among those who feel entitled to a more regularly used title, there’s a Facebook group for you:
The movement only has 113 fans as of this writing, but there is a history to this movement. In 2006, the ABA Journal looked into the matter, and determined that the ethics rules around calling yourself “Dr. Ima Lawyer, Esquire” are unclear…
From the ABA Journal:
[T]he appellation of juris doctor is of fairly recent vintage. In 1969, as more law schools were phasing out bachelor of law (LL.B.) degrees in favor of the increasingly popular J.D., the ABA’s Committee on Professional Ethics (which later became the Standing Committee on Ethics and Professional Responsibility) issued an opinion advising lawyers not to refer to themselves as doctors. In ABA Formal Opinion 321, the com mittee said that its longstanding position was derived from prohibitions against “self-laudation” set forth in the ABA Canons of Ethics.
Less than a year later, however, the ethics committee reversed course in light of the newly adopted ABA Model Code of Professional Responsibility. Disciplinary Rule 2-102 permitted a J.D. or LL.M. (master of law) recipient to use doctor with his or her name, the committee concluded in ABA Informal Opinion 1152 (1970).
States have since issued their own conflicting opinions on the matter. Maine ruled that it was inappropriate as people would assume a “Dr.” was a medical professional. North Carolina agreed, ruling that it would be misleading.
But good old Texas did not go along with these other cautious states:
[I]n 2004, the ethics committee of the State Bar of Texas abandoned its long-standing position that lawyers may not refer to themselves as doctor in either social or professional settings. In Opinion 550, the committee concluded that the title is not inherently false or misleading. The committee found no reason to prohibit lawyers from indicating their advanced level of education in the same way as such professionals as educators and social scientists.
The committee also concluded that prohibiting the use of the term to avoid “self-laudation” no longer is necessary “in light of state-bar-approved legal specialization and lawyer advertising.”
The Lone Star state only forbade lawyers specializing in medical malpractice from breaking out the doctor title, unless it was accompanied by a disclaimer explaining the non-medical nature of their title. We hope to see one of our favorite Texas lawyers come out with “Dr. Adam ‘Bulletproof’ Reposa, Esq.” business cards any day now.
Most people, however, will scoff at you for throwing a “Dr.” in front of your name, especially your friends who graduated from medical school. An easier strategy for gaining a spoken title might be to just aim for a judgeship. Then people will be forced to call you “Your Honor,” and that’s even better than “Dr.”