Are Unlicensed Lay People Using the Courtesy Title “Esquire” Tantamount to the Unauthorized Practice of Law?

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.

Sugar Stallings via WLOX File Photo
Sugar Stallings via
WLOX File Photo

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.

21 thoughts on “Are Unlicensed Lay People Using the Courtesy Title “Esquire” Tantamount to the Unauthorized Practice of Law?”

  1. As a lady lawyer, I don’t use the courtesy title “esquire.” Squires are men. I’ve never been sure of the female equivalent, probably “Maid” or “Lady,” but I’ve always preferred “Wench.”

    1. Thanks Jane. Ms. Stallings does not list any education credentials on her website but I did find this:

      About Sugar Stallings, Esq.

      As one of 22 children, native Ethiopian and Trinidadian speaker Sugar Stallings had to speak up loud to be heard. Her powerful voice has projected her to the realization of many dreams. Dreams like coming to the U.S. on a full scholarship, earning a law degree from the University of Maryland, working with mayors, governors, political organizations, lobbying on Capitol Hill and working at the White House on the Health Care bill. As host of “A Call to Action Talk Show,” she blends politics, economic news, community events and a motivational message Saturdays at 10 am on WQFX – 1130 AM. Her “Power Lunch” presentation will give you actionable advice to improve your current situation. Her email is [email protected]

      Funny thing is the National Student Clearinghouse does not have anything for her at the University of Maryland at the main campus of that institution. I hope she clarifies this matter for me.

        1. She has never claimed to be licensed far as I know Lana. I checked Maryland and Mississippi bar rolls. No records found either place.

          1. Educate me on this. In your first post you said that she “realized some of he dreams, one of which was earning a law degree from the University of Maryland.”
            So, she has a law degree, but does not claim to be licensed? Never took and passed the Bar, which I would assume, is required for a license to practice and charge clients for services? Can we find anyone who has compensated her for legal representation? Gotta be illegal to practice without a license.
            WLOX didn’t catch this?
            Yes, this brings back memories of 2017 in Hancock County.

            1. There are really two issues here:

              1. Did she even graduate law school. I could not find a record of that at the University of Maryland where she claims to have attended school.

              2. Is holding yourself out as a lawyer considered the unauthorized practice of law in Mississippi when you have no active license.

              Claiming education credentials that she does not possess would make her a charlatan that is unfit for office.

              The unauthorized practice of law could land her in trouble with the law.

              Here we are now 10 hours after my inquiry to her website and its crickets. I want to be fair to the lady and give her a chance to clarify things but can’t do that if she chooses not to respond.

              Yes, I immediately thought of August 2017. As Yogi Berra would have said its deja vu all over again.

  2. Looked up my own question it can be used when no other title is used but exclusively for a man. It would definitely be misleading if you were not an attorney in the modern world.

    1. Back in 2017 when she was running for Mayor of Biloxi WLOX described her as an attorney. This is getting serious:

      Their campaigning styles are as different as the candidates themselves. Democrat Sugar Stallings knows she has work to do, and has her special pen to help.

      “I feel that everybody who is anybody should have a real official pen like this,” Stallings said with a laugh and flashing the fluffy pen. “This will get you to city hall every time.”

      Not as well-known as her opponent, she’s aggressively trying to meet a big challenge.

      “I think a lot of goals you set for yourself are tough,” she said. “If they were easy, they wouldn’t call them goals. They’d call them easy targets.”

      The attorney and civic activist is campaigning on issues such as finishing the infrastructure project, public safety and more.

      1. Foundation chooses class

        Posted by: MBJ Staff in MBJ FEATURE, NEWS, Newsmakers March 14, 2014

        The Gulf Coast Business Council Research Foundation has chosen 19 Gulf Coast leaders to participate in the 2013 Masters Program. The program was developed in 2007 to identify and develop emerging leaders of the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Members of the class are:

        Sugar Stallings, attorney/radio host, WQFX Radio;

  3. Stallings misrepresented herself to The Harrison County Democratic Committee and they kept quiet. Stallings was question about her degree when she was a mascot at MGM Park.
    Stallings again misrepresented herself as a Democratic when she campaigned and worked for a Republican.

    1. I am waiting to hear back from the University of Baltimore and the University of Maryland before I run part 2. Stallings has not responded to my inquiries.

      You bring up a good point because Sugar could well be a candidate for hire type. The skulduggery potential is off the charts.

  4. TO: those who are vetting Sugar Stallings. You have not mentioned that “Sugar” is definitely not her legal first name. Further, Stallings may be the surname she took on after she married. Please state what name you’re researching for her under when you report your results.

    1. My inquiries included Demetria Brown, Demetria Brown-Sugar Stallings and every combination of those 4 words.

      Of course Stallings could help herself here by responding to my inquiries which she has thus far ignored.

  5. I have looked online, contacted State AND Federal regulatory entities, and have yet to find any Universal Regulation across the board. In my Home State, you must have a Hearing before a Judge for such determinations. That seems to be the only Regulation there is in Florida. Plus, there are no Regulations/Statues that prohibit its usage Outside of the Body of Law in this state. So it appears if a Judge says its ok, Jane Doe can be Jane Doe Esq. Thoughts?

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