Does Wisconsin require that every lawyer have an office as part of his or her law practice?
Some people have concluded that a “bona fide office” is required under the Wisconsin Rules of Professional Conduct. It is easy to see how this requirement may be interpreted from the language of the Wisconsin Rules of Professional Conduct, but I do not think this is an absolute requirement for a lawyer practicing in Wisconsin.
The genesis of this suggestion is Wisconsin SCR 20:7.2. Under SCR 20.7.2(c), any advertisement used by a lawyer must include “the name and office address of at least one lawyer or law firm responsible for its content.” The rule specifically says as follows:
“SCR 20:7.2 Advertising
(a) Subject to the requirements of SCR 20:7.1 and SCR 20:7.3, a lawyer may advertise services through written, recorded or electronic communication, including public media.
(c) Any communication made pursuant to this rule shall include the name and office address of at least one lawyer or law firm responsible for its content.”
This rule relates to advertising and requires Wisconsin lawyers to identify the name and address of at least one lawyer or law firm that is identified in the advertisement. This does not mean that there must be an actual nonresidential physical site, because a lawyer could identify a home address as the office address based on the assumption that the lawyer is practicing from that location. This is especially true for lawyers engaged in a virtual law practice, in which the lawyer is providing legal services through the Internet and other technology services.
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The implication of the rule, nonetheless, is that there is some physical location where the lawyer can be found in person. Unfortunately, this language preceded the expanded use of technology to provide legal services to clients. I do not think it actually creates an expectation that there always must be a law office at which the lawyer is engaging in the practice of law. It does establish, however, the requirement that some type of mailing address be included as part of a lawyer advertisement.
Again, the growth in virtual law practices may negate the expectation of an actual law office location. Technology has opened the door for lawyers to communicate with clients in a variety of ways and has become generally accepted as a way to provide legal services. Lawyers are still required to identify some type of address for their law practice but this requirement does not dictate that a lawyer maintain an actual office.