111 N.J.L.J. 392
April 14, 1983
Joint Use of Word Processing
and Computer Facilities
Extension of Prior Opinion 417
This inquiry concerns whether or not a conflict of interest
exists between two attorneys such as would disqualify them from
representing adverse parties in matrimonial or other cases.
The two attorneys involved have adjacent offices in a three story office building located in the center of town, the first floor consisting of a retail establishment and the second and third floors containing approximately one dozen separate offices, mostly of attorneys. Attorney A's office is on the second floor and consists of a client waiting room, leading through the secretarial office directly into the attorney's private office. Off on one side of the secretarial office is Attorney A's library. This library was originally designated as a "library conference room" and for some time was used for conferences involving clients. That use for the most part has been abandoned, and now it is almost exclusively used as a law library and photocopy room and not generally intended for public admission.
In the immediately adjacent office, three attorneys (including Attorney B) share space and facilities. Those offices consist of a combination client waiting room and secretarial area and three private attorneys' offices to the side of this main room. Their offices have windows looking out over the park on the "square" where the windows are readily visible to the public and bear their names in typical gold leaf lettering. Parenthetically, since Attorney A does not have an office fronting on the "square", Attorney B had allowed Attorney A to place his name on Attorney B's private office window such that from the "square" the two names appear side-by-side, and from the inside of Attorney B's office, the two names, of course, appear side-by-side, only backwards. This practice is not unusual since one of the other attorneys in Attorney B's office has allowed another lawyer who maintains offices in the building, (but not fronting on the "square") to display his name in the same manner. Also to the side of this main room as part of Attorney B's suite of rooms is a library-conference room which is separated from Attorney A's private office by a connecting door which can be locked only from Attorney A's side.
Attorney A partially shares library costs with the attorneys in the adjacent office (as well as some other minor costs, such as a water cooler). Opinion 417) 103 N.J.L.J. 133 (1979) covers this situation thus far, such that it is not prohibitive for Attorney A to be an adversary to any of the attorneys in the adjacent office.
However, the above fact pattern is now complicated by the fact that Attorney A and Attorney B have purchased and now share word processing and other computer facilities consisting of a computer, two disk drives and a printer. This hardware physically remains in Attorney A's library room, thus requiring Attorney B's secretary to utilize the computer in Attorney A's office. The general programs encompassing word processing, forms, time-keeping, and billing functions are stored on disks available to both attorneys, but, importantly, the material relating to individual cases of each attorney is maintained on separate "data" disks used only by their respective secretaries and stored (while not in use) in each of their separate offices. Thus, individual client information of one attorney is not available to the other attorney, and confidentiality is maintained. In effect, the sharing of the computer facility is not unlike the sharing of a photocopier or typewriter or other mechanical device.
There are no pending cases between the attorneys.
We extend the principles set forth in Opinion 417, supra, and we approve of the joint use of the above computer facilities.
The above sharing of computer facilities in our opinion would not constitute the inquirer as being an "office associate", as defined in R. 1:15-5(b).
We stress, that whenever attorneys enter into arrangement as outlined herein, the attorneys must exercise reasonable care to
prevent the attorney's employees and associates, as well as others whose services are utilized by the attorney, from disclosing or using confidences or secrets of a client.
The attorneys should be particularly sensitive to this requirement and establish office procedures that will assure that confidences or secrets are maintained. The attorneys also should explain fully the relationship to, and obtain the consent of their clients to continue to represent adverse interests in any pending lawsuits and to represent adverse interests in future matters See Informal Opinion 1486, American Bar Association, dated February 2, 1982.