Law firms in their own legal dispute over similar names

James Gilbert

James Gilbert

Two lawyers with the same last name – and no relation – are in court to decide who has rights to use the surname in the title of his law firm.

Arvada-based The Gilbert Law Group sued Centennial’s The Gilbert Law Firm in U.S. District Court for Colorado this week, alleging that the latter’s name is confusing clients and courts.

James Gilbert, a 35-year law veteran who founded the Gilbert Law Group as James Gilbert and Associates in 1981, is calling for the court to force Christopher Gilbert of the Gilbert Law Firm to change the name of his business.

“I’ve worked hard to build up a reputation locally and nationally,” James Gilbert said. “When someone starts to create confusion with people who want to use your services, you can’t allow that to happen. We’ve had at least three separate instances where consumers were confused about those similarities.”

But Christopher Gilbert claims he’s in the clear.

“My understanding is that someone’s surname plus a generic phrase, such as law firm, is a completely proper way to conduct business,” he said. “I incorporated in the state of Colorado and the state accepted the incorporation documents rather than determine that (the names were) confusingly similar.”

The dispute began in June, according to the lawsuit filed by James Sawtelle of Sherman and Howard on behalf of James Gilbert, when Christopher contacted James about naming his new law firm. The two came up with a number of alternate names, according to the lawsuit, including Law Offices of Christopher K. Gilbert, Christopher K. Gilbert Law Firm and Chris Gilbert Law Offices.

Christopher rejected all of them, according to the suit, and filed the name Gilbert Law Firm as a new business with the secretary of state on June 29.

The two firms coexisted in peace until Nov. 10, according to the lawsuit, when the Gilbert Law Group received a phone call from a court reporter requesting an address to send copies of case documents. The documents were actually intended for Christopher’s Gilbert Law Firm, but the stenographer incorrectly contacted the Gilbert Law Group due to their similar names.

Read the lawsuit (PDF)

Read the lawsuit (PDF)

The lawsuit cites two more examples where clients called the Gilbert Law Group seeking Christopher Gilbert.

The similar sound of the firms also befuddled the software of business networking site LinkedIn. When Christopher Gilbert added the Gilbert Law Firm on LinkedIn, the website automatically assigned the page with the Gilbert Law Group’s logo, according to the suit.

Now, the Gilbert Law Group is seeking an injunction from the court preventing Christopher from operating under the Gilbert Law Firm name.

Christopher said he doesn’t think the names are confusing, however, given that the Gilbert Law Group has a very specific clientele.

“Jim’s specialization is pretty niche,” Christopher said. “He does automotive product liability and personal injury.”

Christopher practices personal injury law and product liability as well, he said, but his area of expertise involves pharmaceutical companies. To date, he’s represented clients against some of the industry’s heavy-hitters, including Bayer and General Electric, he said.

The 45-year-old previously worked for his own firm in Texas called the Gilbert Law Firm from 2003 through 2010, according to his LinkedIn profile, and graduated from the Mississippi College School of Law in 1998.

James Gilbert, 73, has represented clients against automotive companies like Johnson Controls, which manufactured defective car seats that resulted in a $43 million settlement, the largest ever awarded in Vermont State Court, according to the Gilbert Law Group’s website.

The Colorado native received his J.D. from New York University School of Law.

James Gilbert

James Gilbert

Two lawyers with the same last name – and no relation…

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