Open Concept Office Space

Although there is nothing in the lawyers' Rules of Professional Conduct (lawyers' Rules) or the Paralegal Rules of Conduct (Paralegal Rules) that prohibits a lawyer or paralegal from working in an open office environment, a lawyer or paralegal working in such an environment must ensure that he or she can still meet his or her professional obligations, including preserving client confidentiality.

Lawyers and paralegals must keep confidential all information concerning the business and affairs of the client that are acquired during the professional relationship [rule 3.3-1 of the lawyers' Rules, subrules 3.03(1) and (2) of the Paralegal Rules]. Further, lawyers and paralegals must also keep the client's papers (which may contain confidential information) and other property out of sight and out of reach of those not entitled to see them [commentary to rule 3.5-2 of the lawyers' Rules, subrule 3.03(3) of the Paralegal Rules]. Where a lawyer or paralegal employs non-licensed support staff, he or she must also ensure that those employees maintain client confidentiality in this manner.

An open office environment may be permissible where it allows a lawyer or paralegal to maintain client confidentiality. An example is an open office that exclusively houses a firm or a sole practice, where each of the lawyers, paralegals or non-licensed support staff are permitted access to all client files.  A separated waiting or reception area with restricted access to the open office may be required to ensure no unauthorized persons may enter, and dedicated conference or meeting rooms may be required to accommodate private meetings or telephone conversations with clients.

Where the open office layout may result in the disclosure of confidential client information to those not entitled to it, the environment will not be permissible. An example is a communal open office shared by a firm or a sole practice and other individuals that are not employed by or part of the firm or practice, or an in-house lawyer or paralegal sharing an open layout with employees of the organization who are not entitled to access information related to the organization's legal affairs. It is important to note, however, that where the lawyer or paralegal informs the organization about the risks of other employees being privy to information about its legal affairs and the organization nonetheless insists upon the arrangement, a lawyer or paralegal employed in-house by that organization may be bound to follow the employer's instructions regarding an open office layout.

Additional Resource:

Sharing Office Space