By sintecho • February 23, 2008•Other Issues
Are you, like me a few days ago, unaware of the debate raging on the proper use of the title Esquire? Among the issues: can you call yourself Esquire? can you use the title outside of a legal context? can the title even apply to women?
My journey into these (mostly boring questions) started when I found this conversation on Google answers about potential issues with women lawyers putting "Esquire" after their names, with the question being whether there was something inherently male about the term. The Illinois Bar Association has a Q&A by Gertrude Block explaining that Esquire was first recorded as a title in 14th-century England, when "it meant 'shield-bearer' and referred to a county gentleman aspiring to knighthood, who could gain that rank by apprenticeship to a knight." The United States, however, prohibited titles of nobility in Article I, Section 9(8) of the Constitution, and the title of Esquire instead came to identify occupation, namely "a justice of the peace or an associate judge, and finally was expanded to include lawyers."
[More trivia after the jump!]
Though the title of Esquire applies to women in the U.S., Block cites an American lawyer in England who writes that the title "never applies to women there" and that there are "certain ribald comments on the receipt of letters addressed to women when the name was followed by the title Esq." In the U.S., public opinion mostly approves of using Esquire for both men and women lawyers with the caveat that "most lawyers disapproved of applying the title to themselves." Long story short? "The title Esq. (Esquire) should be a courtesy one extends to others, not to oneself," and don't extend that courtesty to our female friends across the Atlantic. Another word of advice: according to reference librarian Brenda Jones, "'Esquire' is not used . . . if a courtesty title such as Mr., Miss or Ms. precedes the name."
Can you use your favorite title Esquire even when away from the office? The New York City Bar Association has a "Formal Opinion" (seriously, that's what it's called) by its Committee on Professional and Judicial Ethics on the use of Esquire outside of legal settings. The most surprising tidbit in the opinion is the revelation that Esquire doesn't even apply exclusively to lawyers--"it is often added to the names of poets or artists" (what? Pablo Picasso, Esquire doesn't scream creative genius, does it?). The formal opinion concludes that an "attorney may ethically use the title 'Esq.' after his or her name, even when acting in a non-legal capacity." What a relief for those of us who've already incorporated Esquire into our return-address stamps.
Still awake and eager for more? I do not disappoint. Bizarrely, there are at least two law review articles on the topic, so if you are intrigued, feel free to read on:
Gertrude Block, Is it Appropriate to Address Attorneys as Esquire?, 66 Wis. Law 33 (April 1993)
Gertrude Block, Debating the Use of 'Esquire', 23 Pa. Law 52 (Sept.-Oct. 2001), IL 23-SEP Pa. Law 52.
All I can say is, you're welcome.