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Definitions of Esquire

What is Esquire? Is it a academic degree like a doctorate of law? Is it a rank like a General in the Army? Is it gender determinator like Ms. or Mr.? Then what is it? Then lets see what it means academically, historically and socially:

From Webster's Revised Unabridged College Dictionary

Esquire \Es*quire"\, n. [OF. escuyer, escuier, properly, a shield-bearer, F. ['e]cuyer shield-bearer, armor-bearer, squire of a knight, esquire, equerry, rider, horseman, LL. scutarius shield-bearer, fr. L. scutum shield, akin to Gr. ? skin, hide, from a root meaning to cover; prob.akin to E. hide to cover. See {Hide} to cover, and cf. {Equerry}, {Escutcheon}.] Originally, a shield-bearer or armor-bearer, an attendant on a knight; in modern times, a title of dignity next in degree below knight and above gentleman; also, a title of office and courtesy; -- often shortened to squire.

Note: In England, the title of esquire belongs by right of birth to the eldest sons of knights and their eldest sons in perpetual succession; to the eldest sons of younger sons of peers and their eldest sons in perpetual succession. It is also given to sheriffs, to justices of the peace while in commission, to those who bear special office in the royal household, to counselors at law, bachelors of divinity, law, or physic, and to others. In the United States the title is commonly given in courtesy to lawyers and justices of the peace, and is often used in the superscription of letters instead of Mr.

Claiming the title of Esquire may even be unconstitutional for reasons cited below. In short there was even a proposed amendment that one could lose their U.S. citizenship claiming any title. It does no longer mean that people that use this title are no longer gentlemen as used previously but it's use may risk those who wish to remain a U.S. citizen. Read on!

Black's Law Dictionary defines esquire as:

"Esquire - In English Law. A title of dignity next above gentleman, and below knight. Also a title of office given to sheriffs, serjeants, and barristers at law, justices of the peace, and others." Blacks Law Dictionary fourth ed. p.641

In America we did away with all titles bestowed by the so-called aristocracy/royalists when the yoke was severed with England. Today the use of esquire is sometimes used by members of the legal profession and others but it has no legal significance. It does raise questions. If and when used those that use it may be jeopardizing their rights as U.S. citizens.

What does the history of the United States and its Constitution say about the title of ESQUIRE

The Articles of Confederation, Article VI states: "nor shall the united States in Congress assembled, or any of them, grant any Title of nobility."

The Constitution for the United States, in Article, I Section 9, clause 8 states: "No Title of nobility shall be granted by the united States; and no Person holding any Office or Profit or Trust under them, shall, without the Consent of the Congress, accept of any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince, or foreign State."

Also, Section 10, clause 1 states, "No State shall enter into any Treaty, Alliance, or Confederation; grant Letters of Marque or Reprisal; coin Money; emit Bills of Credit; make any Thing but Gold and silver Coin a Tender in Payment of Debts; pass any Bill of Attainder, ex post facto of Law impairing the Obligation of Contracts, or grant any Title of nobility."

There was however, no measurable penalty for violation of the above Sections, Congress saw this as a great threat to the freedom of Americans, and our Republican form of government. In January 1810 Senator Reed proposed the Thirteenth Amendment, and on April 26, 1810 was passed by the Senate 26 to 1 (1st-2nd session, p. 670) and by the House 87 to 3 on May 1, 1810 (2nd session, p. 2050) and submitted to the seventeen states for ratification. The Amendment reads as follows:

"If any citizen of the United States shall Accept, claim, receive or retain any title of nobility or honor, or shall, without the consent of Congress, accept and retain any present, pension, office or emolument of any kind whatever, from any emperor, king, prince or foreign power, such person shall cease to be a citizen of the United States, and shall be incapable of holding any office of trust or profit under them, or either of them."

Some states do not permit anyone calling themselves attorneys or lawyers without being a member in good standing before that state's court or of its bar association. In its strictest sense the bar is the court sitting in full term.

There are many different national and state bar associations. Each state has it's own rules as to the requirements for membership.

Anyone representing themselves as lawfully being an attorney or lawyer in a given state in violation of that states law on the unauthorized practice of law can be prosecuted administratively by the courts, civilly by individuals or criminally by the state as the law allows in the various states.

In many states people trained in law that are not members of the bar are allowed upon application to the court to represent people in legal proceedings in federal and state administrative courts. Examples are tax court, elder care, worker's compensation and others that various states allow. The term lawyer is defined differently in different states.
Esquire as used anywhere at this website is clearly intended to be an honorary addage referring to individuals that are ladies and gentlemen and that these people treat others in a similar way.




May 5, 1994




DIGEST: Attorney may ethically use the title "Esq." after his or her name, even when acting in a non-legal capacity.

CODE: DRs 1-102(A)(4); 2-101(A); 2-101(C)(1); EC 2-13.


May an attorney properly append the suffix "Esq." to his or her name when not acting in a legal capacity?


The inquirer is counsel to a not-for-profit organization that employs staff members and volunteers who happen to be attorneys, but who perform non-legal functions such as public relations, administration, or communicating with members of the organization about the organization's positions on particular issues. The organization identifies these attorneys, who do not practice law on its behalf, in its documents with the title "Esq." following their names. The inquirer asks whether this identification is proper and whether the attorneys may appropriately use the title when communicating on behalf of the organization. We answer these questions affirmatively.

The use of the title "Esquire" has its origins in the Middle Ages. An esquire was a candidate for knighthood, acting as attendant and shield bearer for a knight. n1 Webster's New World Dictionary (1980). Over time, the title became one denoting respect, rather than a specific occupation.

n1 The word is derived from the Latin "scutum" -- a shield, and Middle English: "esquier" -- a shield bearer.

According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, after the decline of the feudal system, the title of "Esquire" was perpetuated by certain lawyers, among them William Blackstone and Edward Coke. These lawyers drew up lists of those they thought entitled to carry the title. The lists included various classes of men who were sons of peers, minor nobles, honorary knights and those who were designated with the title "esquire" upon appointment to office. These appointments were to both legal and non-legal offices and included among others, "Royal Academicians." However, it appears that the title has always been an arbitrary conferment and never reserved exclusively to lawyers. See, e.g., Black's Law Dictionary (6th ed. 1990) (defining "esquire" as a title of dignity next above gentleman, and below knight; also a title of office given to sheriffs, sergeants, and barristers at law, justices of the peace and others; in the United States, title commonly appended after name of attorney); Random House Dictionary of the English Language (2nd ed. 1987) (defining esquire as: "an unofficial title of respect having no precise significance, sometimes placed, esp. in abbreviated form, after a man's surname in formal written address; in the U.S., usually applied to lawyers, women as well as men; in Britain, applied to a commoner considered to have gained the social position of gentleman").

It is not clear how the title "Esquire" came to be used so commonly (and seemingly so exclusively) by lawyers in the United States. There is no authority that reserves the title "Esquire" for the exclusive use of lawyers. n2 Because neither the law nor any established ethical rule governs the use of the title, it would be presumptuous for any non-legislative body to purport to regulate its use. Nonetheless, 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.

n2 For example, New York's Judiciary Law contains no reference to the use of the term esquire in its provisions governing "Attorneys and Counsellors." Indeed, it has been noted that:

an 'esquire' has no relation to law. It is often added to the names of poets or artists; and the term may be applied to a landed proprietor or a country squire; that being one of courtesy. . . . Nowhere do we find that the term 'esquire' denotes an attorney at law.

Antonelli v. Silvestri, 137 N.E.2d 146, 147-48 (Ohio App. 1955).

The only ethical question posed by the use of the title "esquire" by lawyers acting in a non-legal capacity is whether such use if misleading. See DR 1-102(A)(4) (providing that a lawyer shall not engage in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation); DR 2-101(A). We do not believe it is. DR 2-101(C)(1) permits a lawyer to use, in connection with his or her name, a designation indicating training in the law, such as "J.D." See ABA Formal Op. 321 (1969); N.Y. State 105(a) (1969); Maryland 85-21 (1984). Accord D.C. Op. 183 (1987); Iowa Op. 85-14 (1986). But see Philadelphia Op. 86-98 (1986). The title "esquire" does not legally designate an individual as a lawyer because it is not conferred in this country as an academic degree or license. It has, however, been adopted by lawyers by convention as a form of designation. Thus, one using the title in the United States is identifying himself or herself as a lawyer. But, just as a lawyer may identify his or her professional affiliation in a social context, see N.Y. State 105(a) (1969), and that a non-admitted law school graduate may use the title "J.D." on business cards and letterhead, see Maryland 85-21 (1984), the use of the title "esquire" by a lawyer in a non-legal context does not constitute an ethical transgression.

We would be more concerned if the non-practicing attorneys were signing correspondence or otherwise identifying themselves as, for example, "J. Doe, Attorney-at-Law," as opposed to "J. Doe, Esq." A recipient of such a communication could well conclude, incorrectly, that the lawyer was acting in a legal capacity. EC 2-13 states in this regard that "[i]n order to avoid the possibility of misleading persons with whom a lawyer deals, a lawyer should be scrupulous in the representation of professional status." If a member of the organization used the title "attorney" in correspondence while acting in a non-legal capacity, this might convey the impression that a legal position is being taken on behalf of the organization or that a legal opinion is being rendered. Similarly, if one were so identified in meeting minutes it might convey the impression that a member is counsel to the committee or the organization. These concerns, however, do not affect our conclusion that the simple use of the title "Esq." after an attorney's name is appropriate.


For the foregoing reasons, the question presented is answered in the affirmative.



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