Inquiry is made concerning the propriety of locating a business dealing with the closing of real estate transactions in the same building as a law firm when the same partners of the firm are also partners in the previously mentioned business.
Some partners in a law firm are also partners in a business operated by a non-lawyer that performs the service of closing real estate transactions both for owners and lending institutions. This business is seeking to establish an office in the same building as the law firm.
This question involves the much discussed issue of attorneys conducting another business and associating with non-lawyers. See ABA Formal Opinions 54, 57, 233, 234, 297, 305
and 328; ABA Informal Opinions 238, 682, 775, 860 and 1316.
It is appropriate to quote from ABA Formal Opinion 328:
While ... the Committee does not consider it to be necessarily unethical to practice law and concurrently, but in different transactions, engage in the real estate business, the Committee is of the opinion that to do so in accordance with the Canons is so difficult that suspicions of unethical conduct are almost inevitable. For that reason alone, it is our opinion that only a very few lawyers will expose themselves to such suspicions on the part of their brother lawyers and the public. The lawyer who does so must be willing to undertake the tremendous burdens of conducting his real estate business ethically under our Canons ....
The above quoted opinion holds that a lawyer may practice law and conduct a non-lawrelated business from the same office as long as all provisions of the Code of Professional Responsibility, particularly DR 2-102(E), are complied with. See also ABA Informal Opinion 775.
As indicated in the above opinion, the Code of Professional Responsibility would not necessarily prohibit the real estate closing business from being located in the same building as the law firm. However, the divorcement between the office must be sincere and complete with no common use of stationary, cards, announcements, names on doors, etc. Even such a separation may still expose the lawyers involved to the suspicions noted in Opinion 328 and, therefore, it would be preferable if the business and the law firm remained in separate buildings.
This 17th day of September, 1982.
Jack C. Raulston
G. Wilson Horde
John T. Henniss
APPROVED AND ADOPTED BY THE BOARD