March 27, 2014 Articles

Home Is Where the Office Is: Ethical Implications of the Virtual Office

While technology changes, the rules of ethics remain firm.

By Seth L. Laver and Jessica L. Wuebker

The practice of law is changing. More to the point, how and where attorneys operate has changed with recent technological developments. The Internet, cloud-based computing, and mobile devices provide (what some would call) the benefit of accessing contacts or materials from just about anywhere on the globe. There are fewer and fewer locales that are truly “off the grid” and there are few instances when someone is completely unreachable. As a result, attorneys practicing today, like many professionals, may not necessarily be bound to the confines of a traditional office setting. At first, many professionals took advantage of these developments while temporarily away from the office at meetings, vacations, or other shorter out-of-office stints. However, this model has drawn interest from attorneys who now opt never to set foot in a traditional office again and instead operate permanent “virtual offices.”

The idea of permanently practicing law from the home may be appealing to some, especially following this season of subzero wind chills and snowy commutes. However, real-world implementation of a “virtual law office” must be accompanied by consideration of the professional duties imposed on every attorney. Indeed, the ethical implications of such virtual offices have prompted many state professional-responsibility organizations to weigh in with guidance for the attorney who opts to establish a practice within this emerging area.

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