Lawyers in the U.S. have fallen in love with “Esquire”. It is found appended everywhere–on stationery mastheads and signatures, on business cards, professional listings, etc. You name it–it’s there! All well and good! Right? Not so fast!
But I digress. Back to “Esquire.” What’s the origin of the word? How was–and is–it intended to be used?
Basically, Esquire is an honorific, usually in its abbreviated form (“Esq.”) As set forth by the American Bar Association (where I worked for some years), in the roots of English law, it is a title of dignity belonging to the order of English gentry, next above “gentleman” and below a knight. It applies to both male and female lawyers.
The term Esquire is firmly established in the U.S. Indeed, I belong to three or four bar associations, all of which use the term in correspondence. Even the New York State board regulating the profession which conferred my license to practice law has always addressed me as George M. Gold, Esq., in correspondence and various forms. The word has a nice cachet to it. And in the practice of law, I regularly addressed fellow attorneys as John Smith, Esq.–or the firm as Smith & Smith Esqs., when sending along pleadings and the like.
Incidentally, going beyond its use in the legal profession, at times it I simply used as a courtesy title, akin to Mr. or President.
Getting back to lawyers, as noted above, it is appropriate to use Esquire or Esq. in addressing attorney-recipients–e.g., to brethren, others, but not proper for senders to sign off with this title, e.g., from you. It’s akin to using “Mr. Robert Brown” or “Ms. Jane Brown” in signing letters, or on business cards, in professional listings, as an author, on stationery mastheads, etc. It is especially egregious when the communication has nothing to do with legal matters. It could be a marketing brochure or related piece. When so used, it stresses the profession’s exclusivity; it helps to create the in-group feeling that lawyers are the chosen, and the rest of the world are the choosers. It has a pompous quality that best be avoided. Stated simply, we’d best do without it.
Author’s Note: In the spirit of full disclosure, I must admit a failing. In changing my e-mail address some months ago, I learned that ggold or gmgold, was not available without a number–5 or 7–don’t remember which. I don’t know what I was thinking at the time, but I inadvertently used gmgoldesq in the electronic signature. It’s a hassle to change it, but I’m currently in the process of putting my money where my mouth–or pen—is.
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