88 N.J.L.J. 357
June 3, 1965
Municipal Attorney - Office Associate
Two attorneys dissolved their partnership about one year ago
and have since then maintained offices in the same small office
building, in the space formerly used by the firm. Since the
dissolution, the office space has been rearranged so that although
they use a common street entrance, each attorney has a separate
office entrance, separate waiting room, separate workroom and
individual office, each unit grouped at opposite ends of the same
floor. In between the offices are a common corridor to rest rooms
and a "general purpose" room used by each attorney for conferences
and for storage purposes. Rent is remitted separately. The inquiry
also states: "Our respective practices are in no way related,
except that, upon occasion one will refer work to the other on the
usual profit-sharing basis recognized by forwarding attorneys."
Because of the appointment of one of the attorneys as municipal attorney, the inquiry is made respecting practice by the other before agencies of the municipality of which his ex-partner is the municipal attorney.
Do the above facts constitute these attorneys "office associates" within the meaning of R.1:26-5(c) so as to preclude the inquirer from representing defendants before the municipal court and applicants before the board of adjustment and the planning board during his ex-partner's term of office. See R.1:26-4.
R. 1:26-5(c) provides: "The term 'office associates' as used in R. 1:26 shall include attorneys who share common office facilities." A conference room shared by two attorneys is an important office facility and comes within the definition cited. The opinion of this Committee is that the facts submitted do constitute these attorneys "office associates" within the meaning
of R. 1:26-5(c).
In addition, each attorney "upon occasion" ... will refer work to the other on the usual profit-sharing basis recognized by forwarding attorneys." Presumably this is "based upon a division of service or responsibility," in accordance with the provision of Canons of Professional Ethics, Canon 34, Division of Fees. Thus, on referral work each attorney, in the situation described in this inquiry, is working on the same case and is an "office associate" in the usual sense.
It is the opinion of this Committee that since the office relationship described constitutes these attorneys "office associates" under the provisions of R. 1:26, the rule precludes the inquirer from practicing before the municipal agencies of the municipality of which his office associate is the municipal attorney.
For the general considerations of R. 1:26 and the application of the Canons of Professional Ethics, see this Committee's Opinions