Inquiry is made concerning the propriety of leasing law office space from a client, located in a building shared by the client; and, sharing the use of a common reception room and services of the receptionist/typist.
The inquiring attorney proposes to lease office space in a building owned and partially occupied by the corporate client and its subsidiaries. The client is engaged in the management and consulting business and owns and operates an automobile dealership, loan company, insurance agency, advertising agency and entertainment agency.
The lease agreement between the attorney and client provides for a monthly payment of rent. The attorney will be allowed to share the use of an existing common reception room and services of the receptionist/typist with the corporate client and subsidiaries. The attorney's office is otherwise separate and independent of all the occupants of the building.
The proposed law office will be a branch office for the attorney where he will provide legal services to the corporate client/landlord and subsidiaries and also to other consumers of legal services in the vicinity.
American Bar Association Informal Opinion 1482, issued on April 8, 1982, states there is no impropriety in a lawyer sharing office space with a private business provided the lawyer takes the necessary steps to avoid possible misunderstandings that may be created by sharing offices. The opinion, as adopted herein, states:
... the physical layout of the office must be arranged in a fashion that makes it clear to all clients and others that they are dealing with the law firm at times when, in fact, this is the case. Door signs, telephone listings and receptionist contacts, for example, must enable those who deal with the office-sharers to discern readily whether their dealings are with one acting as a lawyer ... Care also must be taken to separate legal files from those belonging to the business.
The attorney is further ethically obligated (i) to avoid the use of the client and the facilities as a feeder of law business (DR 2-103); (ii) to preserve the confidences and secrets of all clients (DR 4-101); and (iii) to supervise and be responsible for the conduct of all his employees as relates to his ethical and legal obligations.
This 12th day of April, 1984.
G. Wilson Horde
T. Maxfield Bahner
Charles T. Herndon, III
APPROVED AND ADOPTED BY THE BOARD