The Use of the Title Esquire in the United States
In the United States, esquire, more commonly seen as the suffix Esq., is used most often by individuals who are licensed to practice law. The suffix esquire is not gender specific and can be used by both female and male lawyers. The term esquire was not officially granted by any government authority but rather assumed by the legal community and profession. Certain states also give this title to other ministerial officers, such as commissioners of deeds, notary publics, and justices of the peace.
It is customary to not use the suffix esquire when referring to any sitting judges, who are members of the bench as opposed to members of the bar, and are not allowed to practice law in most jurisdictions in the United States. These judges will generally be given the prefix the Honorable as their title of respect. In certain jurisdictions, this title can also be given to attorneys who are current members of the jurisdiction’s bar.
Often it is suggested that certain United States jurisdictions explicitly indicate that the esquire suffix should only be used for lawyers. However, these jurisdictions actually do this in order to suggest that the term may be sometimes used by an individual who is falsely or wrongly claiming to be a licensed member of the state bar. It sometimes may be used in conjunction with the claim of being associated to the bar. The suffix alone is not enough to be considered evidence of misrepresentation.
All previous court cases in the United States that questioned the use of the suffix esquire always involved an individual who was practicing law without the proper authorization. None of these cases prosecuted an individual for the term when it was used only in a legitimate law practice.
The legal associations of an esquire in the United States have not completely eliminated out the modern British use of esquire where it is an alternative honorific to Mister.
The use of esquire by attorneys most often occurs when filing documents with a court or signing correspondence. In these situations, the use of the suffix only occurs when reference is done in the third person, for example by making a formal introduction, addressing an envelope, or for a business letterhead. Esquire is not used with any other honorific such as Mr., Ms., or Dr.
However, if a person has a post-nominal professional designation or an academic degree such as an M.D. or a CPA, the designation can be used after esquire. Furthermore, when a social correspondence is addressed to a commissioned officer from the U.S. Foreign Service, the suffix esquire can be used in a complementary fashion. It can also be used when addressing a diplomat.