Use of Leased Time-Shared Office Address or Post Office Address on Letterhead and Advertising
Opinion rules that a law firm may use a leased time-shared office address or a post office address to satisfy the address disclosure requirement for advertising communications in Rule 7.2(c) so long as certain requirements are met.
ABC Company offers to lease office space to law firms. The office lease is a time-sharing arrangement in which lawyers use meeting rooms by appointment. Depending upon the lease, ABC Company may also provide mail forwarding and personalized call answering. ABC Company advertises that it provides businesses with “prestigious addresses” that can be utilized on business cards and stationary.
May a law firm enter into a lease with ABC Company and use the leased office address as the law firm’s address on letterhead and advertising?
Yes, subject to certain requirements.
Rule 7.2(c) provides that a lawyer’s advertisements must include the name and office address of at least one lawyer or law firm responsible for its content. Rule 7.1(a) provides that a lawyer shall not make a false or misleading communication about the lawyer or the lawyer's services. “It is a misleading communication for a law firm to infer that it has an office or a lawyer located in a community when, in fact, there is no law office or lawyer for the firm present in the community.” RPC 217. In RPC 217, the Ethics Committee concluded that listing what appears to be a local telephone number in an advertisement in a particular community, without including an explanation that the number is not a local telephone number and that there is no law office in that community, is misleading as to the actual location of the law firm.
Similarly, it would be misleading for a law firm to use a leased time-shared office address on letterhead or in advertising to infer that the law firm has an office or a lawyer located in a community when the law firm’s only connection with the community is the lease arrangement that allows a lawyer to use meeting rooms in that community on an “as needed” basis.
However, the use of a leased time-shared office address in communications may not be misleading depending upon the law firm’s connection to the community or the disclosures included in the communication. Whether such a communication is misleading must be determined on a case-by-case basis.
A lawyer who does not wish to meet clients at his home, or to list his home address on letterhead and advertisements, does not mislead the public by using a time-shared leased office address on letterhead and advertisements when the lawyer actually lives in the community associated with the leased address and uses the leased office to meet with clients on a regular basis.
In addition, it is not misleading for a law firm to list a time-shared leased office address on letterhead or in advertising so long as the communication contains an explanation that accurately reflects the law firm’s presence at the address (i.e.,“by appointment only”).
Lawyer operates a “virtual law firm” from an office located in her home. She communicates with her clients online and by the telephone. She does not meet with clients in person except on rare occasions at locations outside of her home. Rule 7.2(c) of the Rules of Professional Conduct requires a lawyer to include “the name and office address of at least one lawyer or law firm” on every advertisement. Lawyer would like to advertise her virtual law firm, but she does not want to include her home address in the advertisements because she is concerned about her safety and privacy. She is considering using a leased office address in her community, as described in Inquiry #1, to circumvent this problem, but would prefer not to incur this expense.
May Lawyer list her post office address, which is the address listed for her on the membership records of the North Carolina State Bar, on advertising to comply with Rule 7.2(c)?
Previously, the Ethics Committee interpreted the “office address” requirement in Rule 7.2(c) to mean a street address. However, requiring a street address in all legal advertising has proved problematic, particularly as the number of lawyers working from home offices or operating virtual law practices has increased. The requirement is no longer practical or necessary to avoid misleading the public or to insure that a lawyer responsible for the advertisement can be located by the State Bar. Moreover, the membership department of the North Carolina State Bar accepts post office addresses as a lawyer’s address.
Therefore, a post office address qualifies as an “office address" for purposes of Rule 7.2(c) provided the post office address is on file as the lawyer’s current mailing address in the lawyer’s membership record with the North Carolina State Bar.