Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Ruling: "Virtual" Law Offices May Not Satisfy N.J. Ethics Regulations

Virtual law offices have received much hype in some circles as the way of the future for legal practitioners.

Some juridictions, however, maintain "brick and mortar" regulations that call the legality of such offices into question. Law.com reports today on a New Jersey decision holding that some forms of virtual offices do not comply with that state's ethical code:

In an action that could affect large numbers of New Jersey practitioners, two court regulatory committees said on Friday that "virtual offices" staffed by receptionists who are mere answering services do not satisfy New Jersey's bona fide office rule.

Virtual offices, time shares in an office building on an hourly or daily basis, are popular with lawyers who work from their homes but need someone to take their calls and a conference room to meet clients.

But these lawyers are violating Rule 1:21-1(a), the Advisory Committee on Professional Ethics and the Committee on Attorney Advertising said in a joint opinion, ACPE 718/CAA 41.

The rule defines a bona fide office as a place where an attorney or a responsible person acting on the attorney's behalf can be reached in person and by telephone during normal business hours to answer questions posed by courts,

..."A 'virtual office' cannot be a bona fide office since the attorney generally is not present during normal business hours but will only be present when he or she has reserved the space," the opinions say. "Moreover, the receptionist at a 'virtual office' does not qualify as a responsible person acting on the attorney's behalf who can answer questions posed by the courts, clients or adversaries."

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