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July 12, 2023

ABA issues ethics guidance for office sharing when lawyers practice independently

CHICAGO, July 12, 2023 — The American Bar Association Standing Committee on Ethics and Professional Responsibility released a formal opinion today that provides guidance to lawyers on how they might share an office and staff resources with an unaffiliated attorney under ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct.

Formal Opinion 507 notes that while office-sharing is permissible under the model rules, attorneys should appreciate that such arrangements will require “appropriate measures to comply with their ethical duties concerning the confidentiality of information, conflicts of interest, supervision of nonlawyers and communications about their services.”

The opinion also points out that lawyers who share offices but do not practice together as a law firm must take appropriate steps to clearly communicate the nature of their relationship to the public and to their clients and cites the model rule that covers advertising as prohibiting any “false or misleading communication about the lawyer or the lawyer’s services.” For instance, the lawyers “may not imply or hold themselves out as practicing together in one firm when they are not a firm.”

Having an office-sharing arrangement does not necessarily bar two attorneys from representing different clients with adverse interests in a court proceeding or a transaction, the opinion said. “This determination will ultimately turn on specifics of the office-sharing arrangement and the nature of the proposed representations,” it said, adding disclosure of the arrangement and communicating efforts to maintain confidentiality should be provided in writing.

The ABA Standing Committee on Ethics and Professional Responsibility periodically issues ethics opinions to guide lawyers, courts and the public in interpreting and applying ABA model ethics rules to specific issues of legal practice, client-lawyer relationships and judicial behavior. Other recent ABA ethics opinions are available here.

The ABA is the largest voluntary association of lawyers in the world. As the national voice of the legal profession, the ABA works to improve the administration of justice, promotes programs that assist lawyers and judges in their work, accredits law schools, provides continuing legal education and works to build public understanding around the world of the importance of the rule of law.