Resource Page: Office Sharing
Missouri Supreme Court Rules
- Rule 4-1.4, Communication
- Rule 4-1.6, Confidentiality of Information
- Rule 4-1.7, Conflict of Interest: Current Clients
- Rule 4-1.10, Imputation of Conflicts of Interest: General Rule
- Rule 4-5.3, Responsibilities Regarding Nonlawyer Assistants
- Rule 4-7.1, Communication Concerning a Lawyer’s Services
- Rule 4-7.2, Advertising
- Rule 4-7.5, Firm Names and Letterheads
- 980220 (confidentiality and advertising when lawyers are office sharing)
- 980030 (office sharing distinguished from Of Counsel relationship; confidentiality, electronic and paper files)
- 970192 (confidentiality, fax line and machine, photocopier, conference room)
- 970119 (shared advertising)
- 970035 (office sharing with non-attorney, reception area, secretary, telephone, signage, client files, advertising)
- 970007 (prospective client of office-sharing attorney)
- 960219 (office sharing with non-attorney, signage, client files, shared office staff, confidentiality)
- 960093 (conflict of interest, signage, joint advertising)
- 950212 (conflict of interest)
- 950169 (shared conflict of interest if office sharing measures are insufficient; confidentiality, files, supervision of employees, signage, advertising)
- 950026 (office-sharing with non-attorney, professional independence, confidentiality)
- 940010 (office sharing with non-attorney, confidentiality, signage)
- 930156 (shared conflicts of interest due to joint advertising)
- 930149 (office sharing with non-attorney, telephone, confidentiality, client files, physical arrangement)
Frequently Asked Questions
Elements to address in maintaining true office sharing arrangement
- QUESTION: What measures should be taken by lawyers from different firms who wish to share office space, non-lawyer personnel, or equipment and who do not wish to share conflicts of interest?
- ANSWER: In a true office-sharing arrangement, a lawyer is not prohibited from representing a client merely because another lawyer in the office sharing arrangement would be prohibited from doing so. See Rule 4-1.10. The informal opinions listed above in the Informal Opinions section of this resource page contain guidance about how to have a true office-sharing arrangement. Areas of common concern include, but may not be limited to, confidentiality, letterhead, signage, reception areas, telephones, client files and information, fax machines and materials, photocopiers, conference rooms, advertising, office staff, and supervision of employees.
Confidentiality and advertising when lawyers are office sharing
Informal Opinion 980220
- QUESTION: Attorney is involved in an office sharing agreement with three other attorneys. Each person pays all expenses relating to their practice and each contracts separately with clients. They do share common overhead expenses. They are also networked together on the same computer system and everyone on the network can access all of the client files for all of the attorneys. The attorneys are the sole occupants of a stand alone building and the sign in front of the building lists the names of all attorneys and the words “Law Office´. There is one receptionist answering the telephone for all four attorneys. Currently, each attorney has their own stationery with their name at the top. Should Attorney list the names of the other attorneys on Attorney´s stationery? If so, what is the proper way to list these names?
- ANSWER: Under Rules 4-7.1 and 4-7.5(f), if Attorney is in an office sharing arrangement, all stationery, signage, etc., should indicate that Attorney is completely separate. If Attorney includes the other attorneys on Attorney´s letterhead, it would give a contrary impression. If Attorney has a separate practice, it is not appropriate for the other attorneys to have access to confidential information regarding Attorney’s clients. This applies to electronic information in the computer system, paper files, incoming and outgoing fax materials, etc. Attorney should take immediate steps to make any necessary changes to comply with the requirements of Rule 4-1.6 regarding confidentiality.
Office sharing distinguished from Of Counsel relationship
(for additional guidance, see Of Counsel Resources page):
Informal Opinion 980030
- QUESTION: Attorney´s firm rents office space to an attorney who is not a member of the firm and is not “of counsel.” Attorney´s firm operates on the same computer network, therefore they can e-mail messages to one another and all have access to all client files stored on the computer. Because the office-sharing attorney and the firm have some mutual clients Attorney would like to add the office-sharing attorney to the network. Although the office-sharing attorney would only be able to look at e-mail specifically directed to that attorney, it would be possible to look at the firm´s client files. The firm and the office-sharing attorney would agree not to look at each other´s files. May Attorney´s firm allow the office-sharing attorney to join the network under this agreement? If not, would the result be different if the office-sharing attorney became “of counsel” to the firm? If not, should the paper files of Attorney´s firm be locked so that the office-sharing attorney cannot gain access to them?
- ANSWER: Attorney may not allow the office-sharing counsel to join Attorney´s computer network without blocking access to Attorney´s client files. The result would be different if that attorney were “of counsel” to Attorney´s firm. Office-sharing counsel should not have physical access to Attorney´s paper files at times when those files are unattended.
Office sharing with non-attorney
Informal Opinion 960219
- QUESTION: Attorney would like to office share with a CPA firm. May Attorney do so if Attorney´s files will be segregated within Attorney´s own space in the suite? May Attorney use or share the secretarial staff?
- ANSWER: Attorney may have an office sharing arrangement with the CPA firm as long as all signs, and other ways in which Attorney´s practice is held out to the public, clearly indicate that Attorney is separate. Attorney must not only make certain that Attorney´s files are segregated but that they are secure from unauthorized people. Attorney may use or share the secretarial staff as long as Attorney can implement adequate measures to ensure confidentiality.
Shared conflicts of interest if office sharing measures are insufficient
Informal Opinion 950169
- QUESTION: Attorney represented W on a motion to modify. Attorney A represented H. Attorney and Attorney A now share office space and expenses but are not partners. W needs to file a motion for contempt against H. Attorney A will not represent H.
- ANSWER: If Attorney and Attorney A are truly only sharing office space and expenses, Attorney may represent W. In order for the relationship to be solely office sharing, confidentiality must be maintained so that employees of one attorney do not have access to the files and client information of the other attorney. To the extent that any employees are joint employees, they should be clearly instructed on the fact that the offices are separate and information about one attorney´s clients should not be shared with the other. The two practices should appear separate through signage and advertising. Although the space is shared, the overall arrangement should make the separateness of the practices clear. If the two practices are not kept separate as described, each should consider the conflicts of one to be the conflicts of both. Therefore, Attorney would not be able to represent W without the consent of H.
Shared conflicts of interest due to joint advertising
Informal Opinion 930156
- QUESTION: Attorney A and Attorney B share office space. Attorney A represents clients in an adoption. Attorney B was appointed GAL when A and B did not share offices. Attorney A and B ran a joint advertisement with a general heading “law offices” and their joint address. Their individual names and phone numbers also appeared. Is it a conflict for B to be the GAL?
- ANSWER: Yes, the advertisement implies a relationship between the attorneys. Therefore, A and B will be treated as a firm for conflict of interest purposes, including imputed disqualification.
Requesting an Informal Advisory Opinion
Missouri attorneys may request an informal advisory opinion from the Legal Ethics Counsel. Guidelines for requesting an informal advisory opinion, in writing or by telephone, are found here. The Office of Legal Ethics Counsel may be reached by telephone at 573-638-2263.