Opinion date: Feb. 6, 2002
Ethics issue presented:
The Inquirer was concerned with the ethical issues, if any, which could arise when a sole practitioner shares space with another law firm.
Facts as presented by Inquirer:
Inquirer, a sole practitioner who is moving into office space with another law firm, was unsure as to what ethical issues might be involved regarding a shared space arrangement generally, and specifically, how to fashion letterhead. Inquirer's practice will be separate from the other law firm. Inquirer will have separate signage and a separate entrance. Inquirer will share a receptionist who will answer all phones, but will have a separate, private secretary and computers which will not be networked with the host firm's computers. Inquirer specifically wanted to know if Inquirer should be listed as "of counsel" to the law firm or have Inquirer's own letterhead. Inquirer indicated that there would be times when Inquirer would have a case in which the other firm would be opposing counsel.
Inquirer was advised that Rule 7.5(a) and 7.5(d) govern the use of letterhead and firm names and other professional designations and must be reviewed in conjunction with Rule 7.1. Inquirer was advised that the letterhead and name could not state or imply that Inquirer practices with the law firm. Rather, Inquirer was advised to use separate letterhead as a sole practitioner and not indicate that Inquirer is "of counsel" to the other firm. Inquirer was advised that, under Rule 1.6, Inquirer would need to make certain to have secure areas for confidential information, such as client files, to avoid situations under which an imputed disqualification would preclude the representation of a particular client because Inquirer's shared space arrangement could be construed as a "firm" for the purpose of Rule 7.10, since the definition of "firm" could include "the fact that they have mutual access to confidential information concerning the clients they serve."