To Esq., Or Not To Esq.

I’ve never fully understood placing “Esq.” or “Esquire” after one’s name as a lawyer.

A. Someone told me that it is our version of a doctor calling themselves Dr. as a prefix.

B. Someone else told me that you should never refer to yourself as an Esq., but that it is reserved for others to use when referring to you. I.e. Improper to use Esq. on outgoing correspondence, but it is acceptable for individuals to address correspondence to you with Esq. added.

C. Someone else told me that Esq. is something used to demonstrate the awarding of a Juris Doctor degree, but it did not denote bar membership or the active practice of law.

D. Someone else told me that Esq. was commonly used by people who finished law school but were not yet a member of the bar, just to feel spiffy.

E. And yet someone else told me that placing the term Esq. behind your own name is a fantastic way to demonstrate that you are a self-absorbed prick.

So, what is the truth?

No, seriously, I’m asking.

Or, should I just continue to ignore the term? I am also considering adding the prefix “Hip Hop Mogul” for myself, but that will be the subject of a separate post.


After a few years of reflection, I give you the following: while some well-meaning and good people follow rule B in earnest, the answer is almost always E.


15 thoughts on “To Esq., Or Not To Esq.

  1. It started out as a feudal thing which could denote higher rank in a number of contexts. But my 2 cents: No. Don’t use it. Anyone can now become a lawyer in America. And everyone does become one. The attorney world is now like a big bowling alley in a crappy part of Cleveland. Distinguish yourself some other way within our world. 🙂


    PS “Free Lunch, Final Wisdom, Total Coverage, You-Pay-Nothing…” would trump “Esquire”, in my humble opinion.

    • I see your point, and I have heard that term (also in the form of “squire).

      On a separate note, I’ve always wondered what knights did when they needed to go pee. I’ve seen sets of armor, and they didn’t appear equipped to address this issue.

  2. When I send a letter to another lawyer, I address it J. Daniel Hull, Esq. (yes, regardless of whom I’m sending it, it gets addressed to Hull), which then makes it his problem to get it to the appropriate recipient.

    I use “Esq.” after my name on second sheets of letterhead, justified right, in order to avoid a second line with the old “attorney” crap that appears on the first sheet, in order to show that I am a lawyer, a self-absorbed prick and, I note with little enthusiasm, a very poor bowler.

    I passed through Cleveland once on my way to Ann Arbor, but I defer to Dan’s intimate knowledge of the city, not to mention its bowling alleys. After all, he is unmarried and would certainly be far more familiar than I would.

    • I figured you’d just put “LLB” after your name to denote……well…….you know.

      It sounds like you’re trying to contribute to the second edition of Typography For Lawyers.

      And, I don’t think you’re self-absorbed at all.

      Now, as far as the “attorney” stuff. I learned from Mark Bennett that the word attorney refers to a relationship, and lawyer refers to the person. I.e. I am a lawyer. I am Huggy Bear’s attorney.

    • I’ve been told that there are no bowling alleys in Warsaw, which seems to run against all stereotypes. I have no idea whether there are a significant number of lawyers there. But noble titles? Surely there’s a joke. I have better taste than to proffer it. (OK, not so. I’m just not witty enough to think of it.)

      • Honestly, Jeff, I don’t think that Esquire is adequate for you.

        Therefore, I proclaim you Baron Gamso of Ohio.

        Oh, and you’ll need to amend your business cards.

    • Scott, single people are generally vexed, often lonely and always 100% randy enough to shaft a snake in a sandstorm. Bowling lets us relax, fire up giant doobies, drink whiskey, get naked and kick out the jams. Wondering why I got so many letters from you re: insider trading and SEC probes I couldn’t even remember.

  3. My wife is a veterinarian. She and her co-workers refer to each other by the title “Doctor ” — e.g., Dr. Dolittle. They do this even when its just a group of doctors. In otherwords, three of them could be eating lunch at a restaurant with no non-doctors and they’d do this. Because of this, I jokingly suggested that she refer to me and other lawyers by the title “Lawyer .” I’m not really sure I can adequately describe the look that I received for that suggestion. Result of my suggestion … whenever I’m around them, they all call me by my first name and keep calling each other Doctor.

    I’m certain that they’d view Esquire as more of the same silliness.

  4. I use it as a matter of routine (it’s the default on my correspondence, my email, my website) for a simple reason: so people know I’m a lawyer. Non-lawyers have a lot of expectations about lawyers, one of which is that lawyers will always identify themselves as lawyers, much the way doctors do.

    This isn’t to make myself feel like a big shot; I know how low the bar is to become a lawyer. Our firm has a large volume of intake, so we’re routinely interacting with people who don’t know us that well, many of whom, like most of the population, don’t routinely interact with law firms. If I don’t put “Max Kennerly, Esq.” on my email or letters then I run a decent chance of someone wondering if I’m a legal assistant or paralegal and then calling up and asking to talk “with the attorney” or the like. That sort of client confusion is never a good thing.

    I’ve heard stories of clients thinking that a rejection letter wasn’t “final” because they didn’t think “the lawyer” wrote it. It happens. Public interest lawyers routinely run into clients who don’t think they’re actually lawyers, despite the written agreement and despite the many conversations about it. I know one public interest lawyer who represented a client through a discrimination case only to be fired right at the end for “a real lawyer,” some sleaze who just collected a portion of the settlement. Even when departing the client couldn’t get the public interest lawyer was, in fact, a lawyer, because they hadn’t advertised it all over the place.

    This may matter less for a solo who doesn’t have a bunch of paralegals around to potentially confuse people, but my hunch is that it actually matters more because there’s no indication that you’re a law firm. If you don’t make it abundantly clear you’re a lawyer, many people will assume you’re not and will move on to a “real” lawyer.

  5. It is a term of respect to be used when addressing others. If you put it after your own name, you are not using it properly. People who add it to their own name say they do so to identify themselves as a lawyer, but who wouldn’t already know that if it is business correspondence? Your letterhead will usually identify you as a lawyer. If it is personal correspondence, why would you feel the need to identify yourself as a lawyer unless you have an insecurity complex.

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