The Ethics of Legal Office Sharing Arrangements or Subleasing
4 Simple Tips to Keeping it Clean:
The benefits of legal office sharing arrangements or subleasing are highly valuable: Money savings, camaraderie, and availability of professional consultation. The legal ethics are highly important, yet simple. Here are four simple tips for keeping your legal office sharing arrangement or subleasing in line with your state's ethics rules.
1. Maintain Appearance of Professional Independence. Make it crystal clear to the public that you are independent lawyers, not a firm. Never imply otherwise on your letterhead, business cards, office signage, and directory listings; when answering the phone; or in fee agreement. (ABA Model Rule 7.5) For example, the receptionist should answer the telephone, "Law Offices," not "Smith and Jones Law Offices." And, your letterhead should read, "Smith Law Office" while your office mate's letterhead should read, "Jones Law Office," not "Smith and Jones Law Offices." (Example of state ethics rule: Georgia Rule 7.5)
2. Maintain Absolute Confidentiality. Keep your client files absolutely confidential. This means separate staff, files, computers, telephones, and fax. Confidences must not be shared. For example, you can share a receptionist if she does not have access to your client information. (Example of state ethics rule: Georgia Rule 1.6)
3. Avoid Even the Appearance of Conflict. Do not contemporaneously represent clients with adverse interests to those of your office mates. (ABA Model Rule 1.10) For example, if your office mate is representing adoptive parents in an adoption, don't represent the birth mother. Just keep it clean. (Example of state ethics rule: Georgia Rule 1.7)
4. You Can Share Fees. Follow normal co-counsel and fee sharing ethics rules (ABA Model Rule 1.5). Either allocate fees based on services provided or one lawyer assumes responsibility for the case and the client consents to fee sharing in writing. For example, Lawyer Smith does 40% of the legal work and receives 40% of the legal fees and Lawyer Jones does 60% of the legal work and receives 60% of the legal fees. (For example of states ethics rule: Georgia Rule 1.5) These 4 tips for keeping it clean in legal office sharing arrangements or subleasing are meant to raise the red flag of awareness. Be sure to consult your state's ethics rules for specific guidance and examples specific to your state for your legal office sharing arrangement or subleasing.