Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio

Board of Professional Conduct: Operation of Virtual Law Offices Permissible

The Board of Professional Conduct today issued an advisory opinion permitting virtual law offices. The Board also took action to withdraw a superseded advisory opinion.

In Advisory Opinion 2017-5 the Board concludes that the operation of virtual law office is permissible under the Ohio Rules of Professional Conduct. A virtual law office allows a lawyer to work remotely, relying almost entirely on technology to communicate with clients, store client files, and conduct legal research, in place of a traditional “bricks and mortar” office.

The Board determines, in accord with opinions issued by other state conduct boards, that a lawyer may use a home or office address, the address of shared space, or a post office box as the required “office address” in communications with clients, courts, and other lawyers.

The opinion addresses the ethical issues inherent in a virtual law office and reinforces that the conduct rules require a lawyer to stay abreast of changes in technology and take steps to ensure that a client’s information, especially electronic data stored in the “cloud,” is protected from inadvertent disclosure. The opinion also reminds lawyers that the use of third parties to provide technological services, such as offsite data storage, require lawyers to ensure the vendor acts in a manner consistent with their ethical obligations.

Because of the nature of a virtual law office, the Board concludes that a lawyer must be mindful of the requirement to keep a client reasonably informed in order to enable the client to make decisions about the lawyer’s representation. The Board recommends that a lawyer operating a virtual law office notify the client about the use of technology in a written fee agreement.

The Board also concludes it is appropriate for a lawyer operating a virtual law office to share nonexclusive office space with other professionals to receive mail, meet clients in person, or conduct depositions. However, the lawyer must take precautions to ensure the confidentiality of client communications and information in an environment where all tenants share resources like Wi-Fi and a common receptionist or other staff.

The Board also withdrew Adv. Op. 1988-08. The opinion dealt with the question of when a part-time city prosecutor may represent criminal defendants. The Board concluded that Adv. Ops. 2007-4, 2008-5, 2008-6, and 2014-2 superseded all portions of Adv. Op. 1988-08.

Advisory Opinions of the Board of Professional Conduct are nonbinding opinions in response to prospective or hypothetical questions regarding the application of the Supreme Court Rules for the Government of the Bar of Ohio, the Supreme Court Rules for the Government of the Judiciary, the Ohio Rules of Professional Conduct, the Ohio Code of Judicial Conduct, and the Attorney’s Oath of Office

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