Archive for the ‘Residency Requirements’ Category

Bona Fide Office Rule In the News Again

The Bona Fide Office Rule has reappeared in the news again. I’ve written about the Bona Fide Office rule here several times, mostly with regard to New Jersey’s joint ethics opinion on the subject. Other states have been revisiting surrounding issues in terms of the lawyer’s requirements to provide certain contact information on his or her website or other advertising and in that requirement calling for some physical office address.

Bona Fide Office rules discourage lawyers from finding alternative and often more affordable methods of delivering legal services to clients. Requiring that a member of the bar provide contact information to the regulatory body is obviously necessary. Requiring that a lawyer provide his or her clients with a reliable method of contacting the lawyer is also necessary.

However, a lawyer does not need to maintain a traditional, physical law office seven days a week during 9-5 business hours in order to accomplish either of these. He or she does not have to retain the services of an employee to work at that law office in order to answer the phone when the lawyer is not present to accomplish adequate and reliable communication with his or her clients.

The Supreme Court of Delaware recently issued an Opinion that suspended a lawyer who worked from his home office in Pennsylvania while practicing Delaware law. The lawyer’s violation of their Bona Fide Office Rule 12 was not the only item at issue in this opinion which is why I will not go into it in detail except for their discussion of the Bona Fide Office Rule which will mostly like be read by other lawyers in Delaware and potentially discourage them from considering virtual law practice and delivering legal services online to clients.

According to the Court:

“[t]he Rule requires that the office “be a place where the attorney or a responsible person acting on the attorney’s behalf can be reached in person or by telephone,” and have “the customary facilities for engaging in the practice of law.”

There is no mention of the possibility of the lawyer working from home and delivering legal services in unbundled fashion to his or her clients. There is no mention of the use of temporary/as needed renting of office space so that the lawyer can meet with the clients for full service representation, but continue to conduct the majority of their work with clients online. There is technology available to securely work with clients online. This technology decreases the cost of overhead of a traditional law office which in turn decreases the cost of legal fees. There is NO EXCUSE why States should not consider alternative forms of legal service delivery.

The lawyer that was suspended in this case was only using the phone to call his clients. There was no mention of any secure client portal or other virtual law office technology. But it’s the way that the Court addressed the Rule in their Opinion that disturbs me. They must start thinking outside of the Bona Fide Office Rule. It does not make sense anymore on so many levels to restrict how lawyers communicate with clients to in-person visits. Supporting a Bona Fide Office Rule is barrier that is going to continue to discourage lawyers from finding innovative and cost-effective ways to serve the public and increase access.

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NC Proposed Ethics Opinion – Use of Leased Time-Shared Office Address

There is a proposed North Carolina ethics opinion that may affect virtual practitioners who use leased time-shared offices or PO Boxes as addresses because they work from home or only need to meet with clients infrequently.

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NJ May Revise Bona Fide Office Rule

The New Jersey State Supreme Court Professional Responsibility Rules Committee has recommended an amendment to the bona fide office rule, Rule 1:21-1(a). The proposed changes would no longer require that the lawyer provide a physical office location as long as the lawyer was accessible by his or her clients, the courts and other lawyers, including for purposes of service of process.

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NY’s Lawyer Residency Requirements Held Unconstitutional

A couple weeks ago, I wrote a post for the NC Law Blog entitled “What Contact Information Must a Non-Traditional Law Firm Provide?“. The post discussed how more non-traditional law offices are opening up, many of them delivering legal services online, and how this is raising the question of how to comply with residency requirements, […]

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Practicing Law Without An Office Address: Law Review Article Published

Below is a law review article I wrote recently for the University of Dayton Law Review, Volume 36:1, entitled “Practicing Law Without an Office Address: How the Bona Fide Office Requirement Affects Virtual Law Practice.”  PRACTICING LAW WITHOUT AN OFFICE – From the law review article (see citations in full version above): This Article will […]

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Ethics Considerations: Guest Post on Mass. LOMAP Blog

The final guest post in my three-part series for the Massachusett’s Law Office Management Assistance Program (LOMAP) has posted on the blog.  This final post covers ethics considerations in virtual law practice including both the attorney’s responsibility to thoroughly research their software provider as well as best practices for the ethical management of a virtual […]

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Revising Ethics Rules to Facilitate Virtual Law Practice

I’m on a panel discussion this morning at the ABA Annual Meeting about the impact of technology and globalization on ethics for the 21st century lawyer.  One of the questions that I expect will come up will be about the need for ethics rules to be revised to reflect the changes in practice management that […]

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Another Opinion Related to Residency Requirements

If you are keeping up with developments in the bona fide office rules or residency requirements of state bars that govern the practice of law, you might want to read through this recent opinion: In the Matter of the APPLICATION OF CARLTON, No. 10-mc-160 U.S. District Court D. Maryland (April 26, 2010).  I’ve only got the Westlaw citation for […]

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NJ Bona Fide Office Rule and Virtual Law Offices

New Jersey’s Advisory Committee on Professional Ethics and the Committee on Attorney Advertising released a joint opinion dated March 25 that states that even when an attorney hires a virtual assistant or receptionist or shares a rented office space for conferences to attempt to create an office presence in the state, this does not create […]

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