RI-118

February 28, 1992

SYLLABUS

    A lawyer may "office share" with the lawyer's spouse, who is a certified financial planner, at a shared residence provided strict measures are observed to assure that the businesses are kept separate and distinct and that client confidentiality is maintained.

    References: MRPC 1.6, 5.1, 5.4, 5.5, 7.1, 7.2(c), 7.3.

TEXT

A lawyer operates a law practice from the lawyer's residence. The lawyer's spouse, a certified financial planner, wishes to make up business cards showing the spouse's "business" at the shared residence. The two businesses are unrelated and there will be no sharing of telephone numbers or files. Each business does its own secretarial work. The lawyer asks whether the lawyer may ethically "office share" with the nonlaw business at the shared residence.

Previous ethics opinions have discussed sharing office space with nonlawyers or maintaining non-legal businesses of a lawyer in a conventional office setting. They require physical separation of the offices so that the businesses remain distinct. While use of a common conference room is allowed, it cannot be used by the lawyer as a law library or in any way suggest a connection between the legal and non-legal businesses. Separate telephone lines must be maintained. CI-554, CI-600, CI-622, CI-725, CI-931, CI-1006, CI-1099, ABA i1486.

All of these concerns must also be met where a lawyer and a nonlawyer each maintain office space in their shared residence. An additional concern is segregated record retention and the maintenance of client confidentiality. Whether the spouses intend to meet clients in the residence was not raised, but should be considered. Again, separation of the business operations is critical.

"Nothing in the ethical rules specifically proscribes the sharing of office space by lawyers with other lawyers or nonlawyers." ABA/BNA Lawyers Manual on Professional Conduct, section 91.601. Shared settings raise unique questions for which a lawyer must be prepared and, pursuant to MRPC 5.1, procedures must be in place to ensure compliance with ethics rules, including:

  1. Preservation of confidences and secrets, MRPC 1.6;
  2. Accuracy of communications concerning the lawyer's services, MRPC 7.1;
  3. Avoidance of improper solicitation of clients or referrals of business to or from the office-sharer's business, MRPC 7.2(c), 7.3;
  4. Avoidance of the unauthorized practice of law, MRPC 5.4, 5.5(a);
  5. Exercise of independent professional judgment regarding the legal representation, MRPC 5.4(c).