Lawyers Sharing Space - Benefits and Responsibilities

Atlanta lawyers are subleasing with other lawyers and entering into law space sharing arrangements. The Georgia Rules of Professional Conduct do not prohibit attorneys from sharing office space. With law firms downsizing, the empty law office space entices new lawyers into a sublet deal. Know the benefits and responsibilities.

Benefits of law space sharing include:

(i) the occasional consult or assisting with certain legal issues which may arise;

(ii) reduction of overhead costs; and

(iii) potential referrals for legal work in each lawyers' area of practice.

While lawyers seek to share rent, copier costs, internet costs, legal research expenses, lawyers must use extra care about maintaining the confidences and secrets of clients. For instance, if the lawyers sharing law space retain a joint receptionist who performs legal tasks, she or he should be advised to maintain confidentiality of the clients and keep files for the clients in a separate work area. Ethical issues can be triggered by sloppy administrative practices. All confidential information gained in the professional relations with a client, unless the client consents after consultation are required by the Georgia Rules of Professional Conduct (Rule 1.6) to be protected. The duty of confidentiality shall continue after the client-lawyer relationship has terminated (Rule 1.6(e)). So the files must be kept separate even after the case or matter is completed.

The bottom line: lawyers or law firms should not fail to take adequate measures to protect the client's confidential information of each space-sharing lawyer. Lawyers who are dual professionals also must make clear to the public the separate nature of their legal and other businesses, and should take measures to protect client confidentiality.

The dual professional may be required to keep separate phone numbers, letterhead, books, records, and files. The lawyer should take special care to keep separate the provision of law-related and legal services in order to minimize the risk that the client/customer will assume that the law-related services are legal services. (See Georgia Rule 5.7, comment (8)).

Each state may have a specific position regarding the dual professional practicing in one office. For instance, Colorado takes a stronger view, stating that it is easier to avoid confusion if the second occupation is not conducted from the legal office. The basis for Colorado's opinion is that risks such as improper solicitation are increased when one office is used. Whatever the commissions ultimately decide, space-sharing is an important concern for many lawyers and can be maneuvered easily if thoughtful steps are taken prior to conducting the business of law. Lawyers should always remember that the essence of the Rules of Professional Conduct is based on communication with the clients.

Notes: See Also: You Can't Run a Law Practice from a Coffee Shop, Atlanta Lawyers Sublease Space, The Need for Law Space Match, Law Firms with Unused Offices

You Can't Run a Law Practice from a Coffee Shop

Being a solo practitioner can sometimes be overwhelming, particularly for those who have never done it before. Among the many different decisions that a prospective solo practitioner needs to make is office space for the law firm. Because so much of the practice of law has become electronic, some solo practitioners have come to the conclusion that they can successfully practice law without dedicated office space. However, just about anyone who has attempted this sort of arrangement will tell you, having functional and reasonably appealing office space is a very worthwhile investment. While it is true that you can work on a letter or brief from a laptop at the local coffee shop or a room at the law school or your converted garage space, these types of arrangements are typically inefficient. Functionality is the key to efficiency, and it is hard to replace a well-designed office space with reliable copying, scanning, and other equipment, high-speed internet connection, and a dedicated space you can meet with clients and potential witnesses.

Nothing screams a lack of credibility to potential clients and opposing counsel more than an attorney that does not have a dedicated office address. Meeting with a client in a home-office leaves the client wondering why the attorney is not profitable enough to afford office space. Having opposing counsel send documents to a post office box opposed to an office address indicates you do not have the resources to adequately handle cases. In short, there is a reason why virtually all successful attorneys invest in adequate law office space to support their practice. Moreover, particularly in light of the current economic trends, there is very good space to be had at a bargain.

Opportunities to sub-let "Class A" space at a discount abound. And while you may not have your name over the door as a sub-tenant, you will have access to functional space, adequate equipment, and respectable surroundings. If you are planning to run a law practice, finding good Atlanta office space at a reasonable price is well worth the investment.

In 2010, Elaine M. Russell created LawSpaceMatch.com, a website dedicated to helping law firms with open office space and solo practitioners connect with each other. This free service matches lawyers seeking to sublet office space with law firms possessing unused office space across the country. Elaine is a corporate and business attorney representing clients throughout Georgia. Her office is located in the Buckhead section of Atlanta. Contributed by: William B. Ney Notes: See Also: Atlanta's March Unemployment Report Offers Hope for Region , Don't Count On Your Real Estate Broker When You Need a Sublease of Your Office Space, Law Firms with Unused Offices

Atlanta's March Unemployment Report Offers Hope for the Region

The unemployed in Atlanta may have finally breathed a small sigh of relief upon seeing the city's March unemployment figures this week. With little variation over the last 12 months, the unemployment rate for Atlanta has been hovering between 9.7% and 10.4%. February's rate sat at 10.2% and the March figure posted a marked improvement at 9.8 %. Metro Atlanta, as one of the country's largest metropolitan areas, continues to be hard hit by the recession with more than 260,000 unemployed. In February this year, Atlanta was the only metro area among the nation's top 12 metropolitan regions to show a year over year net loss of jobs.

With a real estate market that continues to decline and an increase in gas and food prices, this week's unemployment report provided a bit of good news that Atlanta really needs. The improvement translates to 8,600 jobs that were added last month, many within the hospitality, leisure and health care fields. While much of this hiring is temporary, as hotels and restaurants start to staff up for the summer season, some permanent tech jobs were added. In fact, the need for computer network designers increased by over 11% over last year and wireless telecom jobs grew by over 7%. While these statistics are encouraging, despite posting improved earnings figures, some of Atlanta's larger corporations like Coca-Cola and UPS have yet to make any hiring announcements. Atlanta's residential and commercial real estate values also lag behind the national average. Home prices in the metro area fell by 5.8% between February 2010 and 2011. Together with Detroit, Las Vegas and Cleveland, Atlanta's home values are still below 2000 levels. Overbuilding in the construction industry at the beginning of the recession hurt Atlanta more than most cities around the country. The glut in commercial real estate was made worse by job losses in the financial and legal sectors.

Workforce reductions at larger institutions in these sectors created less income for property owners and caused many commercial buildings to go into foreclosure. Many institutions closed their doors, but the companies that did survive found ways to augment declining revenue. Atlanta's legal firms that survived the initial economic downturn, for example, found ways to fill vacant office space after headcount reductions.

Newly freed up Atlanta law space provided an opportunity for cash strapped independent law practitioners in need of office space. In 2010, Elaine M. Russell found a way to help law firms with open office space and solo law practitioners by creating www.LawSpaceMatch.com. This free service matches lawyers seeking to sublease law space with unoccupied office space at compatible law firms around the country. Elaine M. Russell is a corporate and business attorney representing clients throughout Georgia. Elaine's office is located in the Buckhead section of Atlanta. Notes: Taken from: Jobless rate slide fuels wary optimism

What is the "Cloud" and How Can You Use it In Your Law Practice

Lawyers are talking about successful "cloud" case and document management. You may have heard attorneys talk about "the cloud" when discussing IT projects or back up for legal documents. The cloud simply means computer power that is available as a service, accessed securely through the Internet rather than using on-premise servers. After all, servers take up your valuable office space in your law firm. With cloud computing, great scale and best practice benefits are achievable, meaning high availability and productivity for you and your law practice.

Another term you may have heard is "unified communications". For most companies and law firms today, telephone, e-mail, IM, audio conferencing, video conferencing, Web conferencing and voice mail all live in their own disconnected silos. Unified communications reduces technology complexity by putting people at the center of the communications experience by integrating all of the ways we contact each other in a single environment. In order to leverage the cloud and cloud-based unified communication services, you'll need a reliable way to connect your office, satellite offices and remote lawyers to the cloud. There are numerous firms which provide private cloud hosting and part or fully managed outsourcing. Security and management of data are also key issues. Make certain that any vendor or company you may consider has appropriate certifications. With today's expansive choice and availability of services, law firms are now utilizing the cloud and are pleased with the predictable costs and high reliability it provides.

The Ethics of Legal Office Sharing Arrangements or Subleasing

4 Simple Tips to Keeping it Clean:

The benefits of legal office sharing arrangements or subleasing are highly valuable: Money savings, camaraderie, and availability of professional consultation. The legal ethics are highly important, yet simple. Here are four simple tips for keeping your legal office sharing arrangement or subleasing in line with your state's ethics rules.

1. Maintain Appearance of Professional Independence. Make it crystal clear to the public that you are independent lawyers, not a firm. Never imply otherwise on your letterhead, business cards, office signage, and directory listings; when answering the phone; or in fee agreement. (ABA Model Rule 7.5) For example, the receptionist should answer the telephone, "Law Offices," not "Smith and Jones Law Offices." And, your letterhead should read, "Smith Law Office" while your office mate's letterhead should read, "Jones Law Office," not "Smith and Jones Law Offices." (Example of state ethics rule: Georgia Rule 7.5)

2. Maintain Absolute Confidentiality. Keep your client files absolutely confidential. This means separate staff, files, computers, telephones, and fax. Confidences must not be shared. For example, you can share a receptionist if she does not have access to your client information. (Example of state ethics rule: Georgia Rule 1.6)

3. Avoid Even the Appearance of Conflict. Do not contemporaneously represent clients with adverse interests to those of your office mates. (ABA Model Rule 1.10) For example, if your office mate is representing adoptive parents in an adoption, don't represent the birth mother. Just keep it clean. (Example of state ethics rule: Georgia Rule 1.7)

4. You Can Share Fees. Follow normal co-counsel and fee sharing ethics rules (ABA Model Rule 1.5). Either allocate fees based on services provided or one lawyer assumes responsibility for the case and the client consents to fee sharing in writing. For example, Lawyer Smith does 40% of the legal work and receives 40% of the legal fees and Lawyer Jones does 60% of the legal work and receives 60% of the legal fees. (For example of states ethics rule: Georgia Rule 1.5) These 4 tips for keeping it clean in legal office sharing arrangements or subleasing are meant to raise the red flag of awareness. Be sure to consult your state's ethics rules for specific guidance and examples specific to your state for your legal office sharing arrangement or subleasing.

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