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Nothing But the Ruth!

How to Change Your Law Firm Name

This should not be this hard!

By Ruth Carter

With more states allowing law firms to use trade names instead of maintaining the outdated requirement that firms be named after current or former partners, you may be considering rebranding your firm. I’m in the process of rebranding my firm (more on that in a future post), and I want to share the 10 steps I went through to change my law firm name in Arizona.

1. Check the USPTO Database

Don’t fall in love with a law firm trade name until you’ve verified that someone else hasn’t already registered it as a trademark with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. Ditto for any tag lines or slogans you want to use.

You can stake your claim to your trade name by filing an “intent to use trademark” application, but it’s not a requirement. The moment my firm’s new website goes live, I’m filing a trademark application with the USPTO.

2. Claim Your URL

I’ve been sitting on my new website domain for years. If you haven’t bought your new URL, that needs to be a top priority.

Building a website is like remodeling a house. It always takes longer than you expect. Get your web team working on your new website months before you plan to announce your new name.

3. Call Your Bank to Add Your New Name to Your Accounts

Updating the name of your law firm’s business entity is easy. All you have to do is file an amendment with your state. I could update my company name in less than 10 minutes. But before you do that, call your bank to update your accounts.

I called my bank, told them I intended to change my company’s name with an amendment, and asked what I needed to show them to update my accounts. They said I couldn’t!

If I change the name of my business entity, I have to close my company accounts and open new accounts with the company’s new name.

Think about that: It means I’d need to close out my company’s QuickBooks and hire a bookkeeper to set up QuickBooks for my new bank accounts. (This could be a nightmare if you’re waiting for payments from clients.)

Screw that. I’m instead of an amendment, I’m filing a “doing business as,” or DBA.

4. File a Trade Name Application With the State

In Arizona, you don’t need to file a trade name to have a dba, but it may be required to demonstrate to your bank that you’re using a new name. I (meaning my business entity) filed the application with my desired trade name and description of what I’ll be selling with this trade name (legal services).

5. Wait for the State to Approve Your Law Firm Trade Name

I had to wait about two weeks for the Arizona Secretary of State to approve my trade name application. Once I received the approval, I could pay the filing fee and get my trade name.

6. Call the Bank Again

In Arizona, trade names and business entity information are publicly available on the internet. I called my bank again using the number on the back of my company debit card, verified my and my company’s information, and told them I needed to add my dba to my account.

The customer service representative said I needed to take a printout of my law firm trade name, my company debit card, and my ID to the local branch of my bank and have an associate there update my account.

What? Why? What are they worried about that I have to go down there in person?

7. Go to the Bank to Add the Trade Name DBA to the Accounts

OK, fine. I scooped up my dog and headed to the bank.

I met with an associate (not a teller) and gave them the printout of my trade name from the Secretary of State’s website along with my debit card and driver’s license. The associate said they would open a “case” to add the trade name to my accounts.

That’s right. They can’t update my account at my local bank branch. The associate had to submit a case for someone in the “back office” to review my documents and decide if they’d make the requested update. I went to my bank on a Wednesday morning, and they said I’d have a response by end of business on Friday.

Why is this needlessly difficult?

8. Receive the Response From the Bank

Just after 4 a.m. the following morning, I received an email from my bank that said it was “unable to complete request” and to call them between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. local time if I needed more information.

Yes, I need more information!

9. Call the Bank a Third Time

I called them a few hours later and a customer service representative said adding a dba had to be done at the branch and not with a case. The banker I met with the previous day did it wrong! The representative said to go back to the bank.

Come on, this should not be this hard!

10. Go Back to the Bank One Last Time

The next day, I walked into the bank at 9:20 a.m. The bank manager in the lobby recognized me from before and assured me they’d take care of things properly this time.

After waiting 30 minutes, I met with a bank associate — a different one than Wednesday. He didn’t know how to add a dba to an account, so he called the representative line. We waited on hold for over 20 minutes before a human picked up the call.

The issue he kept running into was that it appears the bank can’t add a dba to the firm’s trust account.

I said I was fine with only adding the dba to the operating account. It would be nice to have the new law firm name on the firm’s credit card, but it wasn’t necessary. The representative on the phone sounded annoyed and frustrated.

The associate keeps stepping out to talk with another banker. The representative hung up. 

At 10:40 a.m., the associate took my debit card, driver’s license and trade name over to the business banker onsite. Why didn’t we do this sooner?

I finally walked out of the bank at 11:03 a.m., assured my dba had been properly added to my account.

It Takes Patience and Perseverance to Change Your Law Firm Name

So there you have it — the 10 steps to change your law firm name. Your bank may handle things differently, but it will likely take patience and perseverance, and I recommend bringing something to do while you’re waiting for people to figure out how to help you.

Some days running the business of the law firm is more challenging than practicing law, and it almost always seems to be more difficult and take more time than you’d expect.

Illustration ©iStockPhoto.com

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Ruth B. Carter Ruth Carter

Ruth Carter — lawyer, writer and professional speaker — is Of Counsel with Venjuris, focusing on intellectual property, business, internet and flash mob law. Named an ABA Journal Legal Rebel, Ruth is the author of “The Legal Side of Blogging for Lawyers,” as well as “Flash Mob Law: The Legal Side of Planning and Participating in Pillow Fights, No Pants Rides, and Other Shenanigans.” Ruth blogs at UndeniableRuth.com and tweets @rbcarter.

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