I haven’t referred to other attorneys with the term “Esquire” (or its abbreviated form – “Esq.”) for many years. I’ve never referred to myself by the term. Why is this?
The custom developed almost entirely in the USA, but there is no official or authoritative support for referring to an attorney as an “Esquire.” The term confers nothing. In the past, it meant something in the UK – but that meaning had nothing to do with attorneys (or barristers and solicitors) and everything to do with lineage and nobility.
Some attorneys think that I insult them when I don’t refer to them as an “Esquire.” If so, they are uninformed, as I intend the opposite. I call attorneys what they are – Attorney(s) at Law. This official term is unique to the profession, and non-lawyers cannot use it. However, anyone can be called an “Esquire” without fearing prosecution for the unauthorized practice of law.
I found only one official opinion on the subject, by the Association of the Bar of the City of New York: “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. . . 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.” The Association of the Bar of the City of New York, Formal Opinion 1994-5.
Even if a person uses “Esq.” or “Esquire” as an honorific, to refer to another attorney, an attorney should never use the term to refer to himself or herself. Every dictionary, style book or blog I have consulted agrees. While using “Esquire” referring to others is acceptable, although uninformed, using the term to refer to oneself is pretentious. Many attorneys may do it, but that is irrelevant. It’s still incorrect. The best way to be recognized as an attorney is to be a good one.