The American Bar Association Standing Committee on Ethics and Professional Responsibility released a formal opinion on July 12 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 it 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 conveying the efforts to maintain confidentiality should be provided to the client 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. The committee has issued several opinions since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic related to such areas as virtual practice, remote work and multi-jurisdictional practice.
- Formal Opinion 507
- Relevant ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct
- Prior ethics opinions
- ABA Journal: “Concerns about office-sharing arrangements addressed in new ABA ethics opinion”