FLORIDA BAR ETHICS OPINION
May 19, 1972
Advisory ethics opinions are not binding.
A lawyer who holds a part-time public office may not operate his private law practice from
premises provided by his government employer, although his occasionally making a telephone
call or handling correspondence related to his private practice would be permissible with the
consent of his public employer.
Committeeman Kittleson stated the opinion of the committee:
We are asked by the Board of Governors of The Florida Bar for advice on the propriety
of a lawyer’s using public office space and facilities in connection with his private practice when
the public office is furnished him as an incident of a part-time public position that he holds.
Specific questions propounded are set out in full:
A. Is the location of an office for the private practice of law, in an office
furnished the practitioner for the performance of a function as a public officer, an
improper use of a public office as feeder for the private practice of law, whenever:
(1) The office is located in the courthouse?
(2) The office is located in a public building pursuant to a specific contractual
agreement with a governmental authority controlling the building, permitting the
use of the office for the private practice of law?
(3) In addition to the use of publicly owned space, publicly furnished
facilities including telephone, office equipment and secretarial service are used
interchangeably in the private practice of law and the performance of the public
B. Is the location of a public office, identified and advertised as the location
of an office or court, in an office maintained by the public official or judge for the
private practice of law, an improper use of the public office as a feeder for the
private practice of law, whenever:
(1) The public pays all or part of the cost of the use of such office for public
(2) The public pays all or part of the cost for other facilities located in the
office, including telephone, office equipment and secretarial services which are
used interchangeably in the performance of the function of the public office and
in the private practice of law?
C. Is it improper for a part-time public officer or employee to carry on the
private practice of law by the incidental and occasional use of public facilities,
including a publicly owned and furnished office, telephone, office equipment and
secretarial service, when:
(1) The use of the public facility is carefully separated from the private
practice of law, so that neither the client, the general public or other practitioners
are made conscious of such use so as to identify the public office with private
practice carried on by such public official?
(2) Such use is required by the nature of the public office; that is to say, when
the attorney must physically be present at the public facility whether he has public
business to handle or not?
Implicit in these questions are considerations relating to (a) the lawyer’s use of public
facilities for his private benefit, (b) the lawyer’s use of his public position as a feeder to his
private law practice, and (c) the lawyer’s use of his public office location as a means of
connecting any prestige of his public position with his private law practice or as a means of
implying that his public position gives him special influence or competence in handling matters
for private clients.
The Committee prefers to deal with this subject generally rather than formulate separate
answers to specific abstract questions.
A majority of the Committee has concluded that a part-time public official should not use
public office facilities for his private law practice, even though he might be willing to pay or
reimburse his public employer for part of the overhead.
This does not mean that he necessarily acts improperly if, while on duty at his public
office, he occasionally makes telephone calls and occasionally handles correspondence relating
to his private practice, if this does not interfere with his public duties, does not entail direct or
indirect use of public funds, and is clearly agreeable to his public employer.
But he should not hold out his public office as being his office (or one of his offices) used
for private practice, nor should he use his public office for consultation with his private clients,
even with the consent of his public employers.
In responding as above, the majority presupposes the absence of any conflict-of-interest
or improper influence questions.
Three members of the Committee find no impropriety in the hypothetical arrangements,
provided the official personally pays the cost of any substantial use of his office telephone for
private work, no filing facilities or clerical or secretarial services paid for by the public are
submitted to private use and the official does not allow his private use of the office to interfere
with the transaction of public business. The minority view would condemn dual use of the
facilities if the nature of the public office were so related to the practice of law that functional
separation of the two usages became improbable and a “feeder” relationship became a likelihood.
Compare Florida Opinion 65-16 [since withdrawn].
In summary, the majority opinion requires a lawyer in private practice to maintain an
office which is not owned or furnished by any branch of government but permits him, while on
duty at his public office and with the consent of his public employer, to make incidental and
occasional use of the facilities for private purposes.