March 28, 1972
Ethics Opinon 1972-7
SUBJECT: RENTAL OF OFFICE SPACE TO A LAY PERSON OR ORGANIZATION
Is it proper for a lawyer to rent office space to a lay person or organization, specifically an insurance company?
May the company place its name on the door?
Such rental is proper; however, the company would be required to have a separate door, waiting room, receptionist and telephone number.
Opinion No. 215 of the Los Angeles County Bar Ethics Committee states as follows:
"In our opinion it would not be unethical for a lawyer to have a law office in the same suite as an insurance business conducted by a layman, whether the insurance business was conducted by a member of the lawyer's family or otherwise, provided that the insurance business was not used directly or indirectly as a means of soliciting law business for the lawyer, and was in fact conducted wholly separate and apart from the lawyer's practice."
Informal Opinion No. 1963-8, states:
"This committee held it professionally improper for a group of attorneys occupying a suite of rooms in a one story building, with one street entrance thereto, to sublet one of its offices to a private investigator, and place the name of the investigator on the entrance door to the suite."
The American Bar Association Opinion No. C749 discusses the Lawyer-Accountant relationship which is similar to the question presented in this Opinion. It provides that it would be unethical for a lawyer and an accountant to share office space.
American Bar Association Opinion No. 214 states that while some years ago the Committee approved certain designations on the shingle which it did not sanction on the letterhead, the rule is now the same for both. Under the topic of letterheads, it states that letterheads may not give the names of associates or persons having no legal relation to the firm, or the name of a nonlawyer notary.
The American Bar Association, which takes a firmer stand on the issue than does the Los Angeles Bar, is preoccupied with the possibility that an independent company could be used as a "feeder" company. Both the Los Angeles and the American Bar Associations have the caveat that no member should be involved with such a company. They are not allowed to sell life insurance, nor put on their door that they are also certified public accountants.
Assuming that the door was the same as the lawyer's shingle, it would be improper for the lawyer to have any name of an unprofessional person on the door.
This opinion is advisory only. It is not binding upon the State Bar, the Board of Governors, its agents or employees.
EDITOR'S NOTE: The State Bar has issued proposed changes to the Rules of Professional Conduct involving advertising which are currently before the Supreme Court for approval. It does not appear that the changes as presently written would affect the conclusion of this opinion, rather, the attorney must continue to insure that a legal and nonlegal business appear to the public as totally independent.
Disclaimer: This opinion was issued by the Legal Ethics Committee of the San Diego County Bar Association. It is advisory only and is not binding upon any member of the SDCBA, any other member of the State Bar of California, the State Bar of California or its Board of Governors, or any persons or tribunals charged with regulatory responsibilities. The SDCBA, its officers, directors, agents, and the Legal Ethics Committee members assume no responsibility or liability in rendering this opinion.