Lawyers or paralegals who are considering sharing office space should ensure that the arrangement meets the needs of their law or legal services practice and must ensure that they are able to comply with their professional obligations.
In order to determine whether an office sharing arrangement suits your practice needs, you should discuss relevant issues and terms with the prospective party or parties, such as
- who will sign the lease as the tenant (i.e. one, some of all of the individuals or corporate entities sharing office premises);
- whether there will be shared staff, who will employ them, and who must fulfill any employment-related responsibilities (e.g. salary, standard deductions, benefits, etc.);
- whether there will be shared equipment and who will be responsible (e.g. for the purchase or lease, maintenance and repairs, etc.);
- whether there will be shared office supplies (e.g. printer or photocopier paper) and who will be responsible for purchasing;
- how joint expenses will be allocated among the parties to the arrangement (e.g. phone services, Internet access, utilities, etc.); and
- what will happen if there is a dispute or one or all of the parties involved choose to end the space sharing arrangement.
You may wish to consider putting the terms of the office sharing arrangement in writing. Doing so will clearly outline responsibilities and reduce the possibility of misunderstanding.
You must ensure that your office sharing arrangement allows you to meet all of your obligations under the lawyers' Rules of Professional Conduct (lawyers' Rules) or the Paralegal Rules of Conduct (Paralegal Rules) and the by-laws under the Law Society Act. Of particular note, lawyers and paralegals must be mindful that sharing office space does not afford them the entitlements of those who are partners in or employed by the same firm. For instance, if the lawyer or paralegal is not a partner in or employee of the same firm as the individual with whom he or she is sharing office space, the lawyer or paralegal is not permitted to share a trust account with that individual, even if the individual is a lawyer or paralegal. Moreover, lawyers and paralegals must not misrepresent the office sharing arrangement through letterhead, signage, or website (e.g. suggesting that the lawyer or paralegal and other party are one law firm), or market legal services in a way that does or is likely to mislead, confuse, or deceive anyone about the arrangement (section 4.2 of the lawyers' Rules; rule 8.02 of the Paralegal Rules). Finally, lawyers and paralegals should also employ practices to preserve client confidentiality and property and may consider implementing similar practices to those outlined with respect to home offices.
For a more detailed checklist of considerations for sharing office space, see the Guide to Opening Your Practice for Lawyers or the Guide to Opening Your Practice for Paralegals.
Associates versus Association