The Florida Bar

February 14, 1978
If an attorney rents office space from another attorney and performs legal research and other services on an hourly basis for the other attorney, the two may not serve as opposing counsel in uncontested divorce proceedings or execute affidavits or testify for each other concerning reasonable attorney's fees in contested matters.

CPR: EC 5-2, EC 5-9, DR 5-101(A); Canon 9
Opinions: 70-14, 76-41; ABA Informal Opinion 995

Mr. Livingston stated the opinion of the committee:

A lawyer rents office space from another attorney. From time to time, he performs research and other services for that attorney on an hourly basis. On various occasions, the two attorneys work together on cases, dividing the fee earned on such matters on an equitable basis. Each maintains separate letterhead. Neither lawyer shows the other on his letterhead. The inquiry is whether, under the above circumstances, the lawyer can ethically:

(a) Counsel with and serve as attorney of record for the other party in uncontested dissolution actions in which the attorney from whom he rents office space represents the party initiating the action.

(b) Execute affidavits or testify concerning reasonable attorney's fees in contested actions of various types at the request of the attorney from whom the inquiring attorney rents office space.

It is the opinion of the Professional Ethics Committee that the inquiring lawyer cannot ethically do either of the activities about which he inquires. The attorneys do not have a relationship that is a partnership, but there are many different arrangements between lawyers, short of partnership, that reflect close informal understanding. Office sharing, sharing of employees, libraries and other facilities, and general cooperation in various ways are all proper arrangements. At some stage, short of written agreement, these arrangements create problems that are akin to those of formal partnership arrangements.

This opinion is directed to the facts of this particular inquiry. Those facts include the inquiring attorney renting space from, and performing research and other services on an hourly basis for, the other attorney. The facts at least tend to cast severe doubt upon, if not dispel, any notion of complete separateness and independence between the lawyers.

Canon 9 prohibits the appearance of professional impropriety even when none in fact exists. Further, pursuant to Opinion 70-14, the existence, or appearance, of a close financial or professional relationship to the mutual advantage of the lawyers could, under particular circumstances, be at least susceptible of involving an appearance of impropriety. See Opinion 76-41 [since withdrawn]. See also ABA Informal Opinion 995.

DR 5-101(A) provides that "A lawyer shall not accept employment if the exercise of his professional judgment on behalf of his client will be or reasonably may be affected by his own financial, business, property or personal interests." Although that DR contains an exception when there has been client consent after full disclosure, we do not believe that client consent would dispose of Canon9 problems under the facts of this inquiry. See also EC 5-2, which provides that "a lawyer should not accept proffered employment if his personal interests or desires will, or there is a reasonable probability that they will, affect adversely the advice to be given or services to be rendered...."

Category (a) of the inquiry, as stated above, refers to uncontested dissolution actions. However, such actions may involve contested issues and at least consideration of whether there should be issues other than the actual dissolution itself. The conduct proposed in category (b), involving contested actions and the inquiring attorney serving as an expert witness for the other attorney, would, a fortiori, be inconsistent with the foregoing principles. See also EC 5-9.

[Revised: 08-24-2011]