Informal Opinion Number: 980030

Rules: 4-1.6; 4-1.10
Client-Lawyer Relationship
Confidentiality of Information
Summary: office sharing distinguished from Of Counsel relationship

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.

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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