July 9, 1984
In the absence of any formal work relationship, the sharing office space between sole practitioners should not impair the independent professional judgment of either lawyer with regard to adverse clients where they do not work together or on each others cases; maintain strict confidentiality as to their own files; and/or do not represent such clients in the matters in which they are in fact adverse.
References: MCPR Canon 5, DR 5-105.
Inquiring lawyer is a sole practitioner renting office space from landlord lawyer. Tenant pays costs of xeroxing, postage and secretarial time to Landlord, and has in the past has done some work for Landlord. Tenant has now been offered a contract to provide legal aid services in the area, for which Tenant will be working out of the grantee office 50 hours a month. Tenant asks whether the office arrangement with Landlord may continue when Landlord may represent parties opposing legal services clients.
MCPR Canon 5 provides that a lawyer should exercise independent professional judgment in behalf of a client. MCPR DR 5-105(A) provides:
"A lawyer shall decline proffered employment if the exercise of his independent professional judgment in behalf of a client will be or is likely to be adversely affected by the acceptance of the proffered employment, except to the extent permitted under DR 5-105(C)."
Since Tenant has no other association with Landlord other than renting office space and secretarial services, Tenant's independent professional judgment with regard to legal services clients should not be impaired. If, however, Landlord were to seek the aid or consultation of Tenant in a case against a legal services client, it would be inappropriate for Tenant to associate herself with the case in any way. "A lawyer's fiduciary duty is of the highest order and he must not represent interests adverse to those of the client." Smoot v Lund, 13 Utah 2d 168, 172, 369 P2d 933, 936 (1962). ABA Model Code of Professional Responsibility EC 5-14 further provides that "maintaining the independence of professional judgment required of a lawyer precludes his acceptance or continuation of employment that will adversely affect his judgment on behalf of or dilute his loyalty to a client." However, in this situation, Tenant has already terminated her work relationship with Landlord and thus has alleviated any possible future client conflicts of interest.