In late October, the Washington State Bar Association Committee on Professional Ethics issued Advisory Opinion 201601, “Ethical Practices of the Virtual Law Office.” What did they have to say? Let’s find out.
Physical Office Address? Pshaw!
Lawyers in Washington are not required to have a physical office address under association bylaws, admission and practice rules, the rules of civil procedure, or Washington Rules of Professional Conduct:
- Association bylaws require a principal office address, which need not be a physical office address.
- Admission and practice rules require a mailing address, which need not be a physical office address.
- Lawyers are not required to provide an address for service by hand delivery under the rules of civil procedure.
- Lawyers may use post office boxes, private mail boxes, or business service center addresses in advertising as long as they are not deceptive or misleading.
- Lawyers who work from home are not required to use their home address in advertising.
In other words: full steam ahead virtual law practitioners!
But Don’t Toss Ethics Out the Door
Virtual practitioners remain bound by standards of ethical conduct and must take care with the duties of supervision, confidentiality, avoiding misrepresentation, and avoiding conflicts of interest. Next week we’ll tackle practical advice in each of these areas.
What Does Oregon Have to Say?
Nothing. Or very little.
We don’t have an opinion specifically allowing virtual law practice, nor do we have an opinion disallowing it. And odds are, you won’t see anything on this front soon. If you have questions, contact OSB General Counsel.
In 2010 I gave a preview of my unbundling article, which included a discussion about virtual law offices. A bit has changed since then:
- For the latest on limited-scope representation, See Ethical Considerations in Limited-Scope Representations.
- As to lawyer referral, a physical office presence is no longer required. Lawyers may receive referrals statewide if they choose.
- The definition of what constitutes an “office” for professional liability coverage purposes is still controlled by PLF Policy 3.180. However, the policy itself has been updated. Oregon lawyers should visit the PLF website. Select Assessments & Exemptions > Exemptions and choose “PLF Bylaws & Policies” in the right-hand navigation column. Confused? Call PLF coverage staff 1-800-452-1639.
The other advice in this original post still applies. Oregon lawyers would do well to follow the guidance given our colleagues in Washington. Take care with supervision, confidentiality, avoiding misrepresentation, and conflicts of interest. Next week I’ll tackle each of these and provide practical pointers.
All Rights Reserved Beverly Michaelis 2017