|SHARING OF OFFICES
FORMAL OPINION 62
A MISSOURI LAWYER CAN ENGAGE IN OTHER BUSINESSBUT CANNOT PROPERLY FORM PARTNERSHIP WITH ALAYMAN.
QUESTION: (a) Is it permissible and ethical for a member of theMissouri Integrated Bar, to obtain a license as an insurance broker and sellinsurance, receiving the usual commissions therefor?
(b) Is it ethical and permissible for a member of the Missouri Barto enter into a partnership with an accountant whereby such partnershipsells insurance, makes income tax returns, and acts in the capacity of abusiness advisor for individuals, including professional men and others?
(c) If such association suggested in Q (b) is permissible, can thelawyer member also practice law, provided all legal business and fees arekept separate and distinct from the partnership business so that therewould be no splitting of legal fees?
(d) Could the lay partner in such business properly refer any of thepartnership's clients to the lawyer for legal services provided, of course,neither the partnership nor the lay partner received any of the fees orparticipated in the handling of such legal matters?
ANSWER: (a) Yes. (b) (c) (d) A member of the Bar who has ceasedpracticing law is like any other layman and may enter any business orbusiness association permitted laymen. However, if the member of the Barin Questions (b) (c) and (d) is continuing to practice law, then such anassociation or the reference of business therefrom is proper.
Canon 3 103(A)
[Rule 4 5.4]
QUESTION: What ethical conflicts arise when an attorney haspreviously been employed on the staff of the Public Defender's office andthen commences employment in the same circuit as an assistant circuitattorney?
ANSWER: An attorney upon leaving the Public Defender's officeand joining the staff of the Circuit Attorney's office cannot prosecute orparticipate in any case assigned to the Public Defender's office while he wasthere. His new duties must be on cases with which the Public Defender'soffice has no connection or on cases assigned to the Public Defender's officeafter the date he begins working in the Circuit Attorney's office. Of course,he cannot reveal any confidential information obtained in his previousposition; Rendered March 7, 1977.
[Rule 4 5.4(b)]
QUESTION: Can an attorney share temporary office space withtwo practicing psychologists, which will involve using the same telephonenumber and common waiting room but with separate listing on front doorpanel and building directory?
ANSWER: Yes, rendered April 13, 1977.
[Rule 4 5.4]
QUESTION: What steps should be taken by Attorney "A" who hasshared office space with Attorney "B" for a number of years and Attorney"A" is about to become the City Attorney of a small city? Can Attorney "A"continue to represent a client before the City's Board of Aldermen on azoning question?
ANSWER: No. Attorney "A" is not permitted to represent saidformer client before the Board of Aldermen on the zoning question or anyrelated matter in the City Municipal Court for alleged violation of operatinga commercial establishment in violation of zoning ordinance. Attorney "B"cannot represent said client, because it appeared to the public thatAttorneys "A" and "B" were partners by use of their joint letterhead andoffice signs.
In the future, if steps are taken to indicate to the general publicthat Attorneys "A" and "B" arc sole practitioners and are not in factpartners, then it would be improper for Attorney "B" to represent clientsbefore a city board or in the municipal court while Attorney "A" is CityAttorney. Rendered May 31, 1977.
[Editor's note: It appears that the word "improper" in the lastparagraph should be "proper".]
[Rule 4 1.7]
QUESTION: Can a Legal Aid Society participate in the computersystem shared with other agencies into which the names of clients andother confidential information are inserted?
ANSWER: No. The Committee has the opinion that such actionwould be an improper breach of the attorney-client confidentiality and couldonly be done with the specific authorization of each individual client.Rendered August 3, 1977.
[Rule 4 1.6]
QUESTION: Attorney A shared office space with Law Firm B whorepresented petitioner in a dissolution action. At that time he becameaware of some records of the petitioner that were in the possession of FirmB. Thereafter, Attorney A became an employee of Law Firm C, who desireto assign the handling of said action on behalf of the respondent to AttorneyA. At this time Attorney A has never conferred with the petitioner or therespondent. Can Attorney A represent the respondent?
ANSWER: No. The Committee is of the opinion that Attorney Ashould not represent the respondent in the dissolution case in question andcertainly Attorney A should not give any information concerning the matterto Law Firm C. The committee does not believe that Attorney A's presenceas an employee of Law firm C disqualifies that firm from continuing torepresent the respondent. Rendered August 22, 1977.
[Rule 4 1.6; 1.7; 1.9]
QUESTION: Can sole practitioners, who share office spacetogether, be listed on a common letterhead?
ANSWER: No. It is improper for such sole practitioners to use acommon letterhead, because such practice indicates to the public that thelisted persons named thereon are partners and this violates DR2-102 (C).Each sole practitioner must use his own letterhead indicating that he is asole practitioner. Rendered January 30, 1978.
[Rule 4 7.5(f)]
QUESTION: Can a licensed Missouri attorney engage in the saleof real estate at a separate location with separate telephones, separatemailing addresses, separate books, etc.
ANSWER: Yes. The real estate brokerage firm should be in aseparate location from the attorney's law office with separate telephones,mailing addresses and books. There should be a full disclosure to all partiesconcerned of possible conflict of interest to all clients referred by the lawyerto his real estate firm. Rendered September 28, 1978.
[Rule 4 1.6; 1.7; 7.1]
QUESTION: Attorney A was "of counsel" to the firm of X, Y and Z.The firm dissolved and A, X, Y, and Z have an office sharing agreement. Allattorneys use their own letterhead. If A becomes a part-time city prosecutor, can X, Y or Z continue to represent their clients in municipal court?
ANSWER: Yes. It is the Committee's conclusion that in thesituation outlined above, if one of the attorneys becomes a part-time cityprosecutor, the other attorneys can continue to represent their clients inmunicipal court. Rendered 10/20/78.
[Rule 4 1.7]
QUESTION: The law firm of A, B and C has existed for severalyears. It presently owns a building, fixtures and law library.
Partner A will become a judge and partners B and C will becomesole practitioners, with each carrying out his separate practice with his ownseparate secretary. B and C will purchase A's interest in the building andother assets and will modify the building to make two separate law officesuites (except they will share a common waiting room for clients).
Partner B is the elected prosecuting attorney for the county and allduties relating to that office are carried on in the courthouse office of B.
Under these physical arrangements,
a. Can B & C represent new opposing clients after dissolution of thepartnership?
b. Can C represent criminal defendants in cases in which B is theprosecuting attorney, which arise after dissolution of partnership.
e. What steps should B and C take regarding clients of A, B and Cpartnership?
a. Yes. It is the opinion of the Committee that if the law officebuilding is modified as outlined above, it would be ethically proper for B andC to represent opposing clients after the partnership is dissolved.
b. Yes. Assuming the modification of the office and that B willexclusively operate his prosecutorial duties from his courthouse office, theCommittee believes that C can ethically represent criminal defendants ineases which B is prosecuting which arose after dissolution.
c. All clients of A, B and C should be advised that the A, B and Claw firm has been dissolved and that they can select B or C or both torepresent them or that they can remove the file to some other attorney ifthat is their desire. Rendered November 9, 1978.
[Rule 4 1.7; 1.16]
QUESTION: An attorney maintains his principal law office at thecounty seat and has an office sharing arrangement to use the office of aninsurance agent for seeing clients at a different location in the county. Thesecond office will be used for client's convenience in the evenings and onweekends. The attorney will not accept any kind of referrals, directly orindirectly, from the insurance agent who shares the out county office.
Is this office sharing arrangement improper?
ANSWER: No. It is the Committee's conclusion that it would notbe improper for the attorney to acquire space located in the office of aninsurance agent as a place to meet his clients in that part of the county.Rendered November 9, 1978.
[Rule 4 7.2(c)]
QUESTION: Can a sole practitioner and a professional corporationuse a joint letterhead?
ANSWER: The Committee concludes under the present provisionsof the Code of Professional Responsibility in this state, attorneys who arenot partners cannot use a joint letterhead. If they are sole practitioners,then they must use a letterhead as a sole practitioner. If they are indeedpartners, then they can use a letterhead so indicating. Likewise, if there isa professional corporation, the letterhead can indicate that status.
The Committee has consistently held that lawyers who are notactually partners cannot use a joint letterhead because this is misleading tothe public and is in violation of DR2-102(C). Rendered December 8, 1978.
[Rule 4 7.1; 7.5(f)]
QUESTION: Can a Missouri lawyer who maintains an office inMissouri become a shareholder of a Kansas professional corporation andhold out to the public that said professional corporation is maintaining anoffice in the State of Missouri?
ANSWER: No. The Committee is of the opinion that the Missouriattorney cannot be a shareholder in the Kansas professional corporationand hold out to the public that the corporation is maintaining an office inthe State of Missouri. If the Missouri office and phone number is includedon the Kansas professional corporation's letterhead, it would, in our opinion,indicate to the public and court personnel that the Kansas corporation wasmaintaining an office in Missouri and this would be contrary to the statutesof the State of Missouri and cannot be allowed.
The Committee finds nothing improper should the Missouriattorney be designated "Of Counsel" to the Kansas corporation if he was notactually a shareholder therein. He could be so designated on the letterheadof the corporation and he could maintain his personal office in Missouri.Rendered April 19, 1979.
[Rule 4 7.1; 7.5(f); 5.5]
(Opinion omitted. See Notes on Use.)
(Opinion omitted. See Notes on Use.)
QUESTION: Can an attorney ethically operate his law office andhis real estate firm from separate office suites in the same buildingcomplex? The separate offices will share a common waiting room area, acommon conference room and a common receptionist.
ANSWER: Yes. It is our opinion that the building proposed and itsuse by the law office and the real estate firm is possible. There is nothingimproper about a common waiting room or the use of a common conferenceroom, so long as the confidentiality of the law clients is maintained.Rendered October 18, 1979.
[Rule 4 1.6; 1.7]
QUESTION: Can a Municipal Attorney and a Municipal Judge ina given municipality share a telephone number in their respective law officepractice without resulting in a conflict of interest or an appearance ofimpropriety?
ANSWER: If the two attorneys holding the offices of MunicipalAttorney and Municipal Judge are not in partnership or associated in thepractice of law, it is the Committee's opinion that they may share thetelephone number in their respective private law practices without aconflict of interest or an appearance of impropriety. Rendered June 23,1980.
[Rule 4 1.7]
(Opinion omitted. See Notes on Use.)
QUESTION: May a legal service corporation lease space from afederally funded community action program agency? The program will sharethe services of a receptionist, who will only give out forms to potentialclients. She will give out no legal information. An attorney will be presentone or two days a week and the office is used solely as a place to interviewclients.
ANSWER: Yes. The rental of space seems proper. The Committeedoes stress that the legal service corporation must scrupulously protect theclients' confidences. Rendered July 16, 1981.
[Rule 4 1.6; 1.7]
QUESTION: Attorney A is a sole practitioner. Attorney B is anAssistant Prosecuting Attorney in the same county. They desire to enterinto an office sharing agreement. Attorney B will occupy an office in A'ssuite and pay Attorney A a sum of his share for secretarial services, rent,copier, etc.
Attorney A and B will maintain separate practices and will not holdthemselves out as partners or as being associated in any way.
Is such an arrangement permitted?
ANSWER: Yes. It is the opinion of the Committee that the sharingof office space does not preclude A and B from representing opposingparties with regard to their practice if there are no common files and noconfidential information is passed between the attorneys.
A and B may have a problem if a single secretary is handling thesecretarial duties for both A and B and they should keep that in mind inmaking their arrangements. Rendered February 12, 1982.
[Rule 4 1.6; 1.7]
QUESTION: An attorney is licensed to practice law in this state.He will soon be taking the C.P.A. exam. The attorney has received an offerof employment by an accountant to be an employee of the accountant. Theattorney desires also to engage in the private practice of law. Is it permissible for the attorney to engage in the private practice of law as well as beemployed by the accountant?
ANSWER: An attorney can carry on another business as well as thepractice of law so long as he keeps the two separate and does not attemptto maintain them from the same office. Rendered December 3, 1982.
INFORMAL OPINION 930149
QUESTION: Attorney is president of a small corporation (not a lawfirm). Attorney does not provide legal representation to the corporation. All of the records and business transactions of the corporation are keptseparate from Attorney's law practice. May Attorney have the executiveoffices of the corporation housed within Attorney's law offices? This wouldinclude notation on the door and the building directory as well as the officeaddress being listed on the corporation's letterhead.
ANSWER: Sharing space with another business is permitted butthe two businesses must be maintained separately. The corporation musthave a separate phone number answered for the business and not the lawoffice. The files and other information must be separately maintained toensure confidentiality of information related to the law practice. Thephysical arrangement should be one which enables clients of both businesses to understand that the businesses are separate. Also, aside from theexecutive office question, Attorney should be very careful to take Attorney'srelationship to the corporation into account in Attorney's conflicts checkingsystem.
[Rule 4 1.6; 1.7; 7.1]
INFORMAL OPINION 930156
QUESTION: Attorney A and Attorney B share office space. Attorney A represents clients in an adoption. Attorney B was appointedGAL when A and B did not share offices. Attorney A and B ran a jointadvertisement with a general heading "law offices" and their joint address. Their individual names and phone numbers also appeared. Is it a conflictfor B to be the GAL?
ANSWER: Yes, the advertisement implies a relationship betweenthe attorneys. Therefore, A and B will be treated as a firm for conflict ofinterest purposes, including imputed disqualification.
[Rule 4 1.7; 1.10; 7.5(f)]
INFORMAL OPINION 940052
QUESTION: Attorney is a member of one firm and will be "ofcounsel" to another firm. The two firms share office space and someequipment, otherwise they are separate. Does this violate the Rules ofProfessional Conduct?
ANSWER: In order to avoid violating Rule 4-7.1 attorney wouldneed to identify both firms with which the attorney is connected on eachfirm's letterhead and other forms of communication to the public and otherlaw firms. The two firms will be considered as one for conflicts purposes.
[Rule 4 7.1; 1.10]