The Florida Bar

February 17, 1965

It would be improper for a lawyer to form a partnership with a nonlawyer for the purpose of representing clients before certain state and federal agencies, notwithstanding that the other person is authorized to practice before those agencies, unless the lawyer completely withdraws from the practice of law and limits his activities to those that can be performed by nonlawyers.

Canons: 27, 33, 34
Opinions: ABA 57, 225, 233, 234, 257, 269, 272, 297, 305

Chairman Smith stated the opinion of the committee:

A member of The Florida Bar inquires whether it would be ethically proper for him to form a partnership with a person who is not a lawyer and is not admitted to The Florida Bar for the purpose of practicing before the Interstate Commerce Commission and the Florida Public Utilities Commission. The proposed partner is a Class B practitioner, admitted to practice before both of the agencies mentioned. He proposes to establish a partnership which would be limited strictly to performing services as transportation consultants and to practice before the regulatory bodies mentioned. The proposed partnership would in no way engage in the general practice of law but the lawyer would continue to practice law in a separate office located several miles from the office of the proposed partnership.

He also inquires whether it would be proper for him and his proposed partner to form a corporation, and act as the principals of that corporation, for the purpose of preparing transportation tariffs, transportation reports and doing research regarding transportation matters for attorneys who practice before both federal and state agencies which regulate transportation. The staff would be neither attorneys nor persons otherwise permitted to practice before the agencies concerned. Also, the attorney asks whether it would be proper under such circumstances for the corporation to solicit business from attorneys engaged in the general practice of law and from attorneys who are admitted to practice before the regulatory agencies. The letterhead of the corporation would carry only the corporate name and there would be no reference to the fact that either of the principals are attorneys or are persons admitted to practice before transportation agencies.

It is the unanimous view of this Committee that it would be improper to form the partnership mentioned above, and the Committee therefore answers the first inquiry in the negative. Opinions 57, 225, 233, 234, 257, 269, 272, 297, and 305 of the Professional Ethics Committee of the American Bar Association are pertinent to the inquiry. Especially pertinent are ABA Opinions 257 and 269 where, in each instance, that Committee disapproved a partnership between a lawyer and a layman admitted to practice before a federal regulatory agency. It was the view of the American Bar Committee, and it is our view, that such partnerships are improper unless the lawyer ceases entirely to offer his services as a lawyer and confines his activities strictly to those opened to persons who are not admitted to practice law. Canons 33 and 34 are involved.
Regarding the second inquiry, the Committee expresses some doubt as to whether it has sufficient information to formulate a final judgment. The plan set forth in the second inquiry supposedly might involve unauthorized practice of law, but this Committee has no jurisdiction over such matters. Assuming unauthorized practice is not involved, and assuming further that the lawyer member of the organization ceased the practice of law, there would be no ethical objection to the plan. If, however, the lawyer member did not cease the practice of law the arrangement could well offend the provisions of Canon 27, particularly if the corporation's activities resulted in legal work being forwarded to the lawyer member of the corporation. Further, if the data accumulated and sold by the corporation is of such nature that the lawyer's association with the corporation would add to the reliance which purchasers place upon the data, or if the data in any way involved the interpretation or construction of laws or regulatory rules, then the lawyer's association with such corporation would, in our opinion, be improper.

[Revised: 08-24-2011]