These summaries were prepared by McGuireWoods LLP lawyer Thomas E. Spahn. They are based on the letter opinions issued by the Virginia State Bar. Any editorial comments reflect Mr. Spahn's current personal views, and not the opinions of the Virginia State Bar, McGuireWoods or its clients. 
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33-Office Sharing with Other Lawyers

(Lawyers who are not in the same law firm may share permanent or temporary office space. They must deal with a number of issues: (1) confidentiality (which may require office-sharing physical arrangements that avoid disclosure of or exposure to confidential information, refraining from leaving client files in conference rooms, kitchen areas, etc.); securing physical files and locking down computers; staff training); (2) clear and accurate communication about the relationship of the office-sharing colleagues (preparing separate business cards, buying accurate advertisements, training a common operator to answer with a salutation such as “Law Offices,” etc.); (3) conflicts of interest considerations (such as imputation of conflicts, which depend on “whether the lawyers are, or appear to the public or their clients as, “associated in a firm” — which is more likely among office-sharing lawyers “who do not protect the confidentiality of their respective clients, regularly consult with each other on matters, share staff who have access to client information, mislead the public about their identity and services, or otherwise fail to keep their practices separate.”); office-sharing lawyers may represent direct adversaries even in litigation after disclosure to clients of the office — sharing arrangement and client consent, staff screening, and assessment whether the pertinent state’s rules permit such adversity; consultation among the office-sharing lawyers (which does not automatically create “associated” status, but which should avoid disclosure of client identity or other protected information and which instead may involve hypotheticals, and which risk “material limitation” conflicts depending on the context of the shared information, as with Model Rule 1.18’s “prospective client” analysis).

Copyright 2000, Thomas E. Spahn