91 N.J.L.J. 365
June 6, 1968
Sharing Office with Realtors-Insurers
An associate in a firm of attorneys has inquired as to the propriety of accepting fees from former or present clients and from strangers who come to the firm's office for help with their income tax returns and for other legal services which might result from such a visit. Obviously this in itself would involve no impropriety.
The inquirer presents other facts, however, which raise serious ethical problems. He recites that the law firm's practice is carried on in a one-story building where the brother of one of
the members of the law firm conducts a real estate and insurance business, and that the offices of the law firm adjoin a large secretarial area in which the legal secretaries and typist work not only on the legal matters of the firm but also on the work of the insurance and real estate business. He notes that the front of the
building has separate signs for each firm's law office and also separate signs for "Realtors, Insurers" and "Agency Insurance" (the name of the agency being identical with the last name of one of the members of the law firm). He also states that there is a common entrance way shared for all operations.
While it does not appear from the inquiry that in fact the attorneys are participating in the real estate and insurance business otherwise than in the use of common facilities and the sharing of office personnel, there can be little doubt on the facts stated that the impression will be created in the minds of all visitors that the attorneys have an interest in the real estate and insurance business. In view of this impression, any advertising or other promotional activity on the part of the real estate and insurance business will inevitably result to the benefit of the law practice and the association is improper.
It has been recognized that an attorney-at-law may engage in business while he is practicing law, but such business must be independent and separate and distinct and should not be one that would be regarded as a feeder for his law practice. We have recognized with some reservations that an attorney, in addition to practicing law, may practice the profession of accounting, but this should not be done from the same office and, indeed, no announcement can be made on the windows of the law office or the stationery used by the law office of the attorney's activity in the accounting field, Opinion 23, 87 N.J.L.J. 19 (1964).
Where the activity of the attorney out of the practice of law is in a field not regarded and regulated as a profession, but is a general business, the problems created are much more difficult. If an attorney is engaged in the real estate or insurance business, advertising and other promotional methods could properly be used as