Informal Opinion Number: 2021-12

Adoption Date: 2021

Rules: 4-1.6; 4-1.1, 4-1.3, 4-1.4; 4-5.1; 4-5.3; 6.01
Client-Lawyer Relationship
Law Firms and Associations
Annual Enrollment Fee and Statement
Confidentiality of Information
Responsibilities of Partners, Managers, and Supervisory Lawyers
Responsibilities Regarding Nonlawyer Assistants
Subject: Competence; Confidentiality; Supervision of Nonlawyers
Summary: virtual practice

Question 1:
Missouri licensed lawyer asks if it is permissible to practice in Missouri from a virtual office, or is a physical office is required?

Answer 1: A physical office, (i.e. a brick-and-mortar building), is not required for a Missouri licensed lawyer to practice law in Missouri from a virtual office. Rule 6.01(b)(1) requires, among other information, for a Missouri lawyer to register “[t]he lawyer’s current mailing address and e-mail address.” That mailing address may be an office, home, post office box, or similar location, so long as it is a place where the lawyer regularly receives mail. See Informal Opinions 950069 (practicing from a home office); 990213 (practicing from a mobile office).

Question 2: Missouri licensed lawyer asks if there are additional ethical considerations when practicing virtually?

Answer 2: The Missouri Rules of Professional Conduct apply equally to lawyers whether practicing virtually or in a physical office. Some ethical considerations include taking steps to ensure competence in using technology as provided in Comment [6] to Rule 4-1.1, continuing to ensure diligence in accordance with Rule 4-1.3, and maintaining regular client communication as required by Rule 4-1.4. Missouri Lawyers are still required to maintain confidentiality of clients’ information and “make reasonable efforts to prevent the inadvertent or unauthorized disclosure of, or unauthorized access to, information relating to the representation of the client.” Rule 4-1.6. Comment [15] to Rule 4-1.6 provides guidance that lawyers are required to act competently to safeguard client information from: (1) unauthorized access by third parties; (2) inadvertent or unauthorized disclosure by the lawyer or other persons who are participating in the representation of the client; (3) and/or inadvertent or unauthorized disclosure by those who are subject to the lawyer’s supervision. Comment [15] to Rule 4-1.6 further provides factors to be considered in determining reasonable efforts to prevent such unauthorized access or disclosure, including, but not limited to, “the sensitivity of the information, the likelihood of disclosure if additional safeguards are not employed, the cost of employing additional safeguards, the difficulty of implementing the safeguards, and the extent to which the safeguards adversely affect the lawyer’s ability to represent clients (e.g., by making a device or important piece of software excessively difficult to use).” Further, Comment [16] to Rule 4-1.6 provides guidance on a lawyer’s reasonable precautions to take when transmitting confidential client information, including “the sensitivity of the information and the extent to which the privacy of the communication is protected by law or by a confidentiality agreement.” Finally, lawyers should also pay extra attention to supervisory responsibilities over other lawyers in the firm as required by Rule 4-5.1, and nonlawyers, including vendors, as required by Rule 4-5.3. See Informal Opinion 2021-03 (supervision of vendor engaged for shredding services); Informal Opinion 2018-09 (use of cloud computing).

Informal Opinions are ethics advisory opinions issued by the Office of Legal Ethics Counsel to members of the Bar about Rule 4 (Rules of Professional Conduct), Rule 5 (Complaints and Proceedings Thereon), and Rule 6 (Fees to Practice Law) pursuant to Missouri Supreme Court Rule 5.30(c). Written summaries of select Informal Opinions are published for informational purposes as determined by the Advisory Committee of the Supreme Court of Missouri pursuant to Rule 5.30(c). Informal opinion summaries are advisory in nature and are not binding. These opinions are published as an educational service and do not constitute legal advice.

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