Adopted Amendments to NJ Supreme Court Rule 1:21-1 will be effective February 1 of this year. This is the “bona fide office” rule that I’ve written about on here before. Thanks to Ekaterina Schoenefeld for sharing a copy of the Notice and Amendments.
Here is a quick rundown of the amendments. The bona fide office rule now states that a lawyer does not need a physical location, but does have to make sure the practice is conducted in a way to ensure “prompt and reliable communication with and accessibility by clients, other counsel, and judicial and administrative tribunals”.
To comply, the lawyer may designate “one or more fixed physical locations where the client files and attorney’s business and financial records may be inspected on short notice…where mail or hand-deliveries may be made and promptly received, and where process may be served…including disciplinary actions….” [I still wonder: What could be more accessible and done “on short notice” than giving access to your cloud-based practice?]
With regards to lawyers not living in NJ who want to practice NJ law and do not have a physical location in that state, if they meet all other qualifications to practice law, they can “designate the Clerk of the Supreme Court as agent upon whom service of process may be made….”
The Amendments also allow that the system of “prompt and reliable communications” may be handled by a telephone service [For example, Ruby Receptionists or another virtual assistance service] of “individuals with whom the attorney is in regular contact during normal business hours” through email or voicemail.
The lawyer must also be “reasonably available for in-person consultations requested by clients at mutually convenient times and places…” [But if you were to have a limited scope agreement where meeting in-person was not part of the scope of services, then I’m guessing this wouldn’t apply?]
And with respect to lawyers admitted elsewhere they can practice NJ law and not run afoul of Rule 5.5(b) and (c) “as long as they maintain a bona fide office” as redefined above.
The way I am reading this, it means that a homebased lawyer could have a Regus-type virtual office for fixed mail/service purposes while continuing to work at home? And I’m also not reading that the fixed physical location has to be New Jersey in order to comply. So this looks like a much more virtual law practice friendly bona fide office rule than the first proposed one. Comments, anyone?