Tips for Sharing LawSpace with Other Lawyers – Don’t forget the Ethics
Many lawyers, particularly solo practitioners, are sharing law office space with other lawyers. Overhead expenses, such as receptionists, conference rooms, and internet and copy machines can be reduced if these expenses are sharing by multiple attorneys.
There are ethics considerations for lawyers who choose to share LawSpace with other lawyers. While not prohibited by ethics rules, here are some guidelines derived from the Model Rules.
Avoid Appearances of a Partnership when Attorneys Share Law Office Space
When sharing space with another lawyer, each firm should have a distinct telephone line and should not misrepresent to potential clients that they are in association or a partnership. Lawyers having separate law practices may not use joint letterhead. Often lawyers sharing space wish to appear as a larger firm to potential clients in order to attract business. If you are not a true partnership, it is advised pursuant to ethical rules not to use joint letterhead and present signs that show anything other than the separate practices. See Model Rule 7.1.
Protect Clients’ Secrets and Confidences
Confidential files of one lawyer may not be accessible by other lawyers sharing LawSpace. Secure files, digitally or otherwise, to maintain all confidences and secrets. Leaving files in a joint conference room or break room is not advisable. Locking files away would be the best way to protect the client and stay within ethical guidelines.
Maintain Independent Legal Judgement
Lawyers should verify that there is no improper solicitation of clients or referrals of business to or from other space sharing lawyers in the office. A lawyer must take care to exercise independent professional judgment regarding legal representation and not be influenced by other office sharing status. There are specific rules regarding referrals of business pursuant to the model rules. Under Model Rule 1.5, an attorney may share fees with another attorney outside the referring attorney’s law firm if the fee is reasonable, is proportionate to the work performed and the clients’ agreement to the arrangement is confirmed in writing including the split of the fee. In these scenario attorneys and sharing office space and working on the same client representation must take extra care to ensure that the client is informed that the attorneys are not practicing in the same law firm.
Consider the Effect of Conflicts
When interviewing a new attorney to space share or rent a conference room, a conflict check should be run against the existing matters handled by the perspective attorney tenant and those attorneys currently in the LawSpace. Sharing space with attorneys with complimentary practices usually minimizes the incidents of conflicts. If a conflict is identified, the law firms involved can make reasoned decisions on how to address the issue. However, deciding in advance of how to handle conflicts would be advisable. Check your jurisdiction regarding how waivers are handled with your clients.