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NYC Bar Gives Ethics Opinion on Virtual Law Offices


NYC Bar Gives Ethics Opinion on Virtual Law Offices

This week, the New York City Bar Association's Committee on Professional Ethics issued a formal opinion on using virtual law firm offices by New York attorneys. The topic of Formal Opinion 2014-2 was the "Use of virtual law office as a principal law office address in advertising and on business cards, letterheads and website."

In a nutshell, the opinion mentioned that while, a New York lawyer who uses a virtual law office will need to comply with other applicable New York Rules of professional conduct including Rules 1.4, 1.6, 5.1, 5.3, 8.4(a) and 8.4(c), he or she will be able to use the street address of a virtual law office located in New York State as the "principal law office address."

This use, the opinion observed, was for purposes of Rule 7.1 (h) of the New York Rules of Professional Conduct, and it would suffice the requirements of the rule even if most of the lawyer's work is done at another location. The opinion also clarified that a New York lawyer may also use such a virtual law firm office address on business cards, letterhead and law firm website.

This, of course, creates a tremendous improvement in situation for many lawyers for whom leasing expensive office spaces do not make sense, and we can expect a rise in the numbers of lawyers in New York using virtual law office addresses for professional purposes while they conduct most of their work at home or some other inexpensive location.

In fact, the opinion specifically deals with the circumstances of a lawyer working from home, and who plans to do most of the work from there. The opinion also clarifies that a virtual law office or VLO, as considered in this opinion, refers to a physical location that offers business services and facilities, such as private or semi-private work spaces, conference rooms, telephones, printers, photocopy machines, and mail drop services to lawyers.

The opinion also cited the Second Circuit's decision in Schenefeld v. New York, where in a matter challenging Section 470 New York Judiciary Law as discriminating against nonresident lawyers the court noted the law as it stands with respect to lawyers resident in New York and practicing in the city.

Though the decision has been appealed against, the Second Circuit noted in its opinion, "with respect to New York residents the Judiciary Law does not impose a specific obligation on an attorney to maintain an office for the transaction of law business in New York."

The NYC Bar's Committee on Professional Ethics also noted that lawyers resident in New York only need to be adequately equipped to maintain a certain level of accessibility and communication with clients. Barring that, as the Second Circuit observed, a New York resident lawyer "may set up her 'office' on the kitchen table in her studio apartment and not run afoul of New York law."

Thus, the NYC Bar concluded that the clear inference that can be drawn from the Second Circuit's ruling is that New York lawyers do not require a traditional office in order to maintain appropriate levels of "accessibility and communication with clients."

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