May 20, 2015 – Is it an office or a client meeting location? Depending on the circumstances, it may be misleading, and therefore improper under SCR 20:7.1 for a lawyer to list a rented, shared office space as his or her “law office” on letterhead or other public communications.
I have my law office in one county, but I have clients in several other counties. Because it is inconvenient or difficult for my some of my clients to come to my office, I use shared, nonexclusive office space, which I rent in two other counties, to meet with those clients. May I list these shared spaces as law offices on my letterhead and in other advertising?
A shared, nonexclusive office space that is advertised as a location of the firm must be an office where the lawyer provides legal services.1 A lawyer may not list alternative or rented office spaces in public communications “for the purpose of misleading prospective clients into believing that the lawyer has a more geographically diverse practice and/or more firm resources than is actually the case.”2
org akaiser wisbar Aviva Meridian Kaiser is assistant ethics counsel with the State Bar of Wisconsin. Reach her by org akaiser wisbar email.
SCR 20:7.1, which governs communications concerning a lawyer's services, prohibits a lawyer from making “a false or misleading communication about the lawyer or the lawyer's services.”
A communication is false or misleading if it “contains a material misrepresentation of fact or law, or omits a fact necessary to make the statement considered as a whole not materially misleading.” Even truthful statements are prohibited by this Rule if they are misleading. ABA Comment , which follows this Rule, provides guidance: a “truthful statement is misleading if it omits a fact necessary to make the lawyer's communication considered as a whole not materially misleading.”
Have an Ethical Dilemma?
Ethical dilemmas affect every lawyer’s practice. This series of questions and answers appears each month in InsideTrack. The answers, offered by the State Bar’s ethics counsel org tpierce wisbar Timothy Pierce and assistant ethics counsel org akaiser wisbar Aviva Kaiser, are intended to provide guidance only and are not legal authority. Each situation will depend on the facts and circumstances involved.
As a State Bar member, you have access to informal guidance in resolving questions regarding Wisconsin’s Rules of Professional Conduct for Attorneys. To informally discuss an ethics issue, contact Pierce or Kaiser. They can be reached at (608) 229-2017 or (800) 254-9154, Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Depending on the circumstances, it may be misleading, and therefore improper under SCR 20:7.1 for a lawyer to list a rented, shared office space as his or her “law office” on letterhead or other public communications.
The factors to consider in determining whether a lawyer may properly advertise the rented, shared space as a firm office include the frequency with which the lawyer uses the space, whether nonlawyers also use the space, and whether signage indicates that the space is used as a law office.3
To advertise an as-needed meeting room rental space as an office would certainly be misleading. For example, a lawyer was publicly reprimanded for representing that his firm had at least six offices within Virginia, when in fact he had a single office, with the other five addresses being unstaffed spaces, some in executive office suites shared with other entities on an as-needed reservation basis. As part of the discipline, the lawyer agreed to revise his website to identify these other spaces as “client meeting locations.”4
1 Virginia Legal Ethics Opinion 1872 (2013) at 3.
2 Virginia Legal Ethics Opinion 1872 at 3-4.
3 Id. at 3-4.
4 Virginia State Bar ex rel. Second District Committee v. Sriskandarajah, CL 2012-4137 (VSB Docket No. 10-022-081527) (2012).