94 N.J.L.J. 585
July 8, 1971
Association with Attorneys
Suspended, Disbarred or Resigned
This inquiry is from a lawyer in good standing, inquiring
about his "association" with a disbarred attorney under the facts
hereinafter stated, relative to the Regulations Governing Conduct
of Attorneys Suspended, Disbarred or Resigned, promulgated by the
a. Am I violating Regulation I (b)?
Regulation I (b). He shall not occupy, share or use
office space in which an attorney practices law."
b. If so, would a relocation of offices within the corporation headquarters building cure the violation, or
c. If such relocation is not a cure, should the ex- attorney work out of an office in another building.
The Regulations at the outset, provide as follows:
An attorney who is suspended or disbarred or who has resigned shall comply fully with the letter and spirit of these regulations.(Emphasis added).
Section I appears to apply to the facts of this case:
(a) He shall desist and refrain from the practice of
law in any form, either as principal, agent, servant,
clerk or employee of another....
(b) He shall not occupy, share or use office space in which an attorney practices law.
It would appear that I (b) is being violated by the inquiring attorney and the disbarred attorney. The corporate employer is in no way involved in this decision. The inquiring attorney has the burden of decision. His problem is controlled by the general principles set forth in N.J. Advisory Committee on Professional Ethics, Opinion 74, 88 N.J.L.J. 357 (1965) wherein we applied the term "office associates" under R. 1:15-5(b) (formerly R.R. 1:26-5(c)).
In that case, two attorneys dissolved their partnership and continued to maintain their offices in the same space in a small office building but rearranged them so that each attorney had a separate office entrance, a separate waiting room, a separate work room and individual offices with a common corridor between them to rest rooms and a general purpose room used by each attorney for conferences and for storage purposes. Each remitted his rent separately and their respective practices were in no way related except that, upon occasion, one would refer work to the other on a profit-sharing basis. One of the attorneys was appointed municipal attorney and the inquiry concerned the propriety of the other practicing before agencies of the municipality of which his ex-partner was the municipal attorney. We held that the facts constituted the attorneys "office associates" within the meaning of the Rule which was then R.R. 1:26-5(c) and such practice would be improper. We also made reference to the application of the Canons of Professional Ethics as set forth in our Opinions 4, 86 N.J.L.J. 357 (1963), and 22, 87 N.J.L.J. 13 (1964). See also Opinion 185, 93 N.J.L.J. 505 (1970), to the same general effect. It would appear that the display of the attorney's certificate immediately outside his private office, with the ex-attorney's office immediately adjacent to his, and both reached through a common passageway and secretarial area, creates an impression of "sharing," which is prohibited by R. 1:20-9(a), and brings the attorney and ex-attorney within the term of "office associates." A relocation of the ex-attorney's office should be made to some other portion of the building, if in doing so, the principles applicable to an "office associate" would not be violated, otherwise he should be moved to another building.