August 14, 1984
A lawyer may share office space with a non-lawyer, provided, the office space and common areas are physically arranged in such a manner to insure their business operations remain separate and distinct, and so that the public and their customers and clients would not construe an affiliation of the lawyer and non-lawyer.
References: MCPR Canon 3, 4, 5, 9, DR 2-103; CI-554, CI-600, CI-622, CI-725.
Five lawyers propose to share office and library space as well as a reception/secretarial area with a financial analyst. The inquirer is concerned that the financial analyst could be perceived by the public as a "runner" for the lawyers; i.e., a solicitor of clients.
A lawyer contemplating sharing office space with nonlawyers must be alert to concerns of advertising and solicitation [MCPR DR 2-103], confidences and secrets [Canon 4], appearance of the unauthorized practice of law [Canon 3], independent professional judgment [Canon 5], and appearance of impropriety [Canon 9].
As this Committee has stated previously in CI-554, CI-600, CI-622, and CI-725, a lawyer may share office space with non-lawyers so long as certain conditions are met to avoid indirect solicitation. As noted in CI-554:
"What is desired is that the two operations be kept so distinct that there can be no suspicion that one is serving as a feeder for the other, or that potential clients arrive in the law office in response to advertisements directed to real estate prospects."
In order to accomplish such distinction the following guidelines are provided:
The common areas must be physically arranged so that the two businesses remain separate and distinct in a manner which prevents the public's misconstruction of the affiliation of the lawyer(s) and nonlawyer(s). For example, while reception areas which identify who the client will see may be a common area, waiting space must be separate to avoid intermingling of those clients thereby giving the impression of an association between the professionals. Conference rooms may be shared so long as they are located in neutral areas; i.e., so long as it is not necessary to pass through a nonlawyer tenant's space to get to such conference rooms, or vice-versa. Moreover, the common area should not be used by the lawyers as law libraries, etc. whereby the working papers and research tools are intermingled creating the appearance of a professional affiliation.
All telephone lines must be directed and answered separately. The law office must be identified as a law office while the nonlawyer's line must be identified as a separate business. Otherwise an arrangement whereby both concerns were simultaneously identified would lead to a misunderstanding regarding the professionals' relationship and would create the impression that the lawyer endorsed the nonlawyer's professional credentials.
External signs may designate all tenants of the building, but internal designations must clearly identify the lawyers and nonlawyers as distinct entities.