Bar News - May 14, 2010
Is a Virtual Law Office the Real Thing? New Jersey Says “No.”
A recent New Jersey opinion on ethics rules says that the virtual law office may violate some ethics rules. The opinion states that a virtual office can be defined as a time-sharing arrangement with other business people, with the lawyer using the office by appointment only. However, New Jersey law specifies that an attorney must have a "bona fide" office where he/she is available to clients, not just for appointments, but on a more regular basis.
Having access to clients only by phone or the Internet (with all its legal helps and applications, no matter how sophisticated) is not enough. Neither is it enough just to rent space, with only a receptionist to answer phones, and take and forward messages. Since the attorney would not be on site except for scheduled appointments, the space would not qualify as a "real" office.
In addition, a receptionist would not be able to answer any questions for clients, courts or judges—and should not be the recipient of confidential information about clients.
When attorneys work from home, that home is considered an office. If the attorney cannot afford a receptionist at his/her home office, that does not disqualify it as an office, since the attorney can be reached by phone or e-mail or by appointment and is present some hours of the day.
While most other states do not have such restrictions, New Jersey is customarily slow to change its ethics rules. To read more on this opinion, click on New Jersey Law Journal.