The answer to that depends on the state in which you live and is incredibly nuanced. For example back in the 1990s the City New York Bar Association Ethics Committee found the term esquire, over time referred “commonly and exclusively” to lawyers. That same committee also found that “based on common usage it is fair to state that if the title appears after a person’s name, that person may be presumed to be a lawyer.”
I’m not a lawyer but I agree with logic. For example seeing the name Jane Doe followed by “,Esq.” would lead most folks to conclude the person was a lawyer. There are some states that take that notion seriously. The Ohio Supreme Court’s Board of Commissioners on Grievances and Discipline prohibited a lawyer who was not licensed to practice law in the state from appending Esq. to his signature on business correspondence because it was deemed to connote licensure in Ohio. (Ohio S. Ct. Opinion 91-24 (1991).)
I found another example on the ABA website page styled Use of Esq. by Non-Lawyers a commenter pointed out that:
In Arizona it can be an unauthorized practice of law:
Arizona Supreme Court Rule 31(a)2B states:
Unauthorized practice of law includes but is not limited to:
• Engaging in the practice of law by persons or entities not authorized to practice pursuant to to paragraphs (b) or (c) or specifically admitted to practice pursuant to Rule 33(d); or
• Using the designations “lawyer,” “attorney at law,” counselor at law,” “law,” “law office,” “J.D.,” “Esq.,” or other equivalent words by any person or entity not authorized to practice pursuant to to paragraphs (b) or (c) or specifically 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.
In Mississippi, case law has nothing on point with this set of facts that I could find. In re Williamson, 838 So. 2d 226 (Miss. 2003) is the most frequently cited case I could find but that matter involves a lawyer licensed in another state soliciting clients in Mississippi and the subsequent denial of his Pro Hac Vice admission by a Circuit Court judge.
I mention this because there is a candidate for office that is using the courtesy title Esquire despite the person not appearing on the bar rolls of any state that I searched including Mississippi:
Greetings, my name is Sugar Stallings Esq. and I am humbly asking for your vote on August 6, 2019 to become the next Public Service Commissioner for the Southern District.
I just sent Ms. Stallings the following via her campaign page contact form:
Ms. Stallings I am the publisher of Slabbed.Org, a media outlet focused on public interest journalism in south Mississippi. I see that you are using the term Esquire behind your name which implies you are a lawyer. Can you tell me what law school you successfully attended and what states you currently hold a law license. In the event you are not a lawyer can you explain to me why you are using the title Esquire. I appreciate your prompt response to this inquiry.
This will be a multi-part post.