June 12 — New York lawyers may use the street address of a
“virtual law office” as their principal law office address
even if they work primarily from another location, according to a June
from the New York City bar's ethics committee (New York City Bar Ass'n
Comm. on Professional Ethics, Op. 2014-2, 6/14).
It's not inherently misleading for lawyers to display this street
address on their law firm website, business cards and letterhead, the
The opinion defines a virtual law office or VLO as a physical New
York location that provides lawyers with business services and
facilities such as work space, conference rooms, telephones, printers
and mail receipt.
“[W]e should not create obstacles to the use of VLOs as long as the interests of clients, the courts, and the legal system are protected.”
New York City Ethics Op. 2014-2
The committee concluded that a VLO can meet the requirement in Rule
7.1(f) of the
York Rules of Professional Conduct that a lawyer's advertisements
must include the “principal law office address” of the
lawyer or law firm whose services are being offered.
This conclusion, the panel said, is consistent with the policies
underlying the rule: facilitating a prospective client's informed
selection of a lawyer; maintaining a place for meetings, contact and
service of legal papers; and not misleading the public.
The committee found indications in a recent Second Circuit decision
that New York lawyers need not have a traditional office to maintain
appropriate levels of accessibility and communication with clients.
See Schoenefeld v. New York,
2014 BL 97304, No. 11-4283-cv, 30 Law. Man. Prof. Conduct 236 (2d Cir.
April 8, 2014), which certified to New York's high court the question
of what satisfies the mandate in Section 470 of New York's Judiciary
Law that lawyers must maintain an in-state office.
The panel also said that “economic conditions in the legal
world and technological developments persuade us that we should not
create obstacles to the use of VLOs as long as the interests of
clients, the courts, and the legal system are protected.”
Courts and disciplinary authorities increasingly recognize that the
conditions of modern law practice justify flexibility in practice
arrangements, the committee said.
As an example, it cited In re Carlton,
2010 BL 96937,
708 F. Supp.2d 524, 26 Law. Man. Prof. Conduct 376 (D. Md.
2010), which found that a telecommuting arrangement can satisfy a
court rule requiring bar members to have their “principal
office” in the jurisdiction where they are licensed. The
committee also referenced New Jersey's recent rule amendment
eliminating that state's bona fide office requirement and allowing
lawyers to have a virtual law office if certain conditions are met.
See 29 Law. Man. Prof. Conduct 70.
Drawing on ethics opinions from other jurisdictions, the committee
offered guidance about particular ethics challenges that go along with
using a VLO beyond those present in a traditional practice:
responsibilities under Rules 5.1 and 5.3 may be arduous to fulfill
when the lawyer and her subordinate lawyers and nonlawyer assistants
work out of separate physical locations.
lawyer who uses a VLO's shared services and office space must guard
against improper disclosure of client information that would violate
who frequently are away from their VLO must be mindful of the duty to
communicate with clients under Rule 1.4 and must remain available to
meet with clients and respond promptly to their requests for
lawyer who has a VLO should provide for personal delivery and
acceptance of service by identifying an agent for these purposes or
arranging for the VLO to accept service.
Full text at
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