SBM - State Bar of Michigan


February 8, 1982


    An attorney may not ethically permit a certified public accountant who rents space from the attorney to share the attorney's telephone line where the telephone will be answered with the name of the attorney.

    References: MCPR DR 4-101(D); CI-329.


A certified public accountant is interested in renting office space from an attorney. The CPA would have a separate office and it would be made clear the CPA is not an attorney. However, to save costs the CPA would like to use and advertise under the attorney's phone number. The phone would be answered "XXX, Attorney at Law." If someone were interested in talking to the CPA, they would have to ask for the CPA.

MCPR Canon 4 states:

    "A lawyer shall exercise reasonable care to prevent his employees, associates, and others whose services are utilized by him from disclosing or using confidences or secrets of a client . . . ."

The telephone arrangement which is suggested would apparently place a phone extension in the office of the CPA. The arrangement would permit the CPA to have access to otherwise private conversations with the attorney's clients should the CPA choose to do so. The Committee does not feel that the "reasonable care" requirement of MCPR DR 4-101(D) is met by the arrangement.

Moreoever, the Committee believes that the arrangement would be improper because it would or could constitute indirect solicitation of business. Persons calling the CPA would be greeted on the telephone by the attorney's name. The arrangement could well result in persons calling for tax or business advice to eventually choose to use the attorney's services because they have become familiar with the attorney's name in association with their accountant. The CPA would be using the attorney's telephone number and personnel to answer the telephone; it is likely the CPA will be using the attorney's waiting room for CPA clients. These arrangements have the undesired impact of indirect solicitation.

In CI-329 a state representative wished to use a law office as a legislative office. The Committee made the observation that ". . . it would not be proper for legislative activities to serve as a 'feeder' for the law practice." The Committee also observed that "the maintenance of a second telephone to be answered as a legislative office would not only be entirely proper, but would be necessary in order to avoid public confusion and ethical difficulties."