103 N.J.L.J. 133
February 15, 1979
Joint Use of Law Library
We have been asked whether lawyers who share use of a law
library are office associates within the meaning of R. 1:15-4 and
1:15-5(b). An attorney who is the owner of an office building
proposes either to lease or sell office space to other attorneys.
The lawyers will share only a common parking lot and law library,
paying for them either in rent or as slurred condominium
We have considered the application of R. 1:16 in several previous opinions, the most recent being Opinion 406, 102 N.J.L.J. 363 (1978). In that opinion, as well as in Opinion 185, 93 N.J.L.J. 606 (1970), common use of a library was involved along with sharing and joint ownership of other facilities. Opinion 185 sets forth at some length our views as to what constitutes association within the meaning of the rule. As we said there "The thrust of R. 1:16 is to promote public confidence in the legal profession and in our system of justice. One of its purposes is to enhance the public image of the profession by preventing even the appearance of impropriety." In the circumstances described in each of those opinions, the attorneys had previously been associated in the practice of law or were going to be connected in some fashion such as the joint ownership of the building where their offices were to be located. In each case there was some relationship which was evident to the public, e.g., previous association as partners (Opinions 74, 88 N.J.L.J. 367 (1965;) and 185 supra); joint ownership of the building (Opinion 186 sups); common use of entrance and waiting room (Opinion 406 supra).
Now we are asked whether the sharing of a law library by itself will constitute the attorneys office associates within the meaning of the rule. We think not, so long as their other facilities are strictly separate. R. 1:15 is designed to maintain the confidence of the public. Where attorneys are sharing facilities or ownership, which are obvious to the public, they are office associates and come within the rule. A law library is and should be solely for the use of the attorneys. We are not unmindful of the fact that libraries are becoming very expensive and to the extent this burden of expense can be alleviated, the public should be better served.
Accordingly, we approve the joint use of a law library by attorneys not otherwise associated so long as they maintain separate and distinct office facilities without joint ownership of the building in which the offices are located and so long as the library is used strictly by the attorneys and their office staffs and not by clients or members of the general public.