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                                         127 N.J.L.J. 166
                                        January 24, 1991


Appointed by the Supreme Court of New Jersey


Office Space Shared With
Private Adoption Agency

    In Opinion 498, 109 N.J.L.J. 425 (1982), in which two prior opinions [Opinion 129, 91 N.J.L.J. 365 (1968) and Opinion 433, 104 N.J.L.J. 204 (1979)] were overruled, this Committee considered two separate factual situations. The first involved a two lawyer partnership with whom a third unassociated lawyer shared office space. The building where they practiced contained other offices and retail space. Their offices had a common entrance and waiting room and two secretaries. It was held that the third lawyer's son could rent a room from which to conduct his mortgage business where he had his own telephone and a secretary who shared space with the lawyers' secretaries.
    In the other situation considered in Opinion 498, supra, 109 N.J.L.J. 425, a single practitioner shared office space with a certified life underwriter (CLU). Each had his own office, telephone and secretaries who shared a common waiting room. The common entrance door had signs identifying one individual as an attorney and the other as a CLU. That arrangement was approved as being proper.
    In both situations, the Committee emphasized that care should be taken to maintain the separate practices and identities of the businesses and professions involved and that confidences of the attorneys' clients be preserved.
    Inquirer here relies upon Opinion 498, supra, 109 N.J.L.J. 425, as support for his proposed arrangement. He is an attorney who has recently been admitted to the New Jersey Bar although he has been a practicing attorney in Pennsylvania for some time. In that state he engaged in a general practice with an emphasis on adoptions. His work entailed representing a private adoption agency and other persons in private adoption matters. He asserts:
        In those matters, I represent the Agency, and not the biological parents or adoptive parents. After the termination of rights is complete in an Agency case, the adoptive parents obtain an attorney to represent them with regard to the adoption part of their case. On occasion, they elect to use my services as their attorney, after written notice to them of the potential for a conflict of interest. Sometimes they choose to use my services, and sometimes they use another.

    He and the same agency desire to open a shared office in New Jersey in what is known as an executive office arrangement. In this arrangement, individual businesses or professionals rent separate units with a common lobby, waiting area, receptionist and door. Each office has its own phone line and sign outside the common door. The single receptionist tends to all phone lines, keeping calls separate.
    He proposes to jointly rent one room in the building with the agency, in which room there would be separate locked filing cabinets and neutral furnishings and wall hangings so that there would be no evidence that one shared the office with the other. He would "seldom, if ever, share the office" at the same time as the agency. Outside the office door there would either be two office placards, one on each side of the door, or one sign placard which could be exchanged or reversed, apparently depending upon who was using the office at the time.
    Inquirer further states that there might be occasions when the agency, in which he has no financial interest, would refer a client seeking private adoption or he might refer clients to the agency.
    Beyond the issue of "solicitation or steering" [see Opinion 518, 111 N.J.L.J. 513 (1983)], the concern of the Committee focuses upon the adoption procedures designed by the legislature to protect the interests of the State of New Jersey and all interested parties, particularly the child involved; N.J.S.A. 9:3-37, et seq. The statute, among other things, mandates that placement for adoption may be made only by a parent, guardian or an approved agency. N.J.S.A. 9:3-39 and 40. Further, N.J.S.A. 9:3-41.1 provides as follows:
        Surrender of child to agency; provision of available information on child's development to prospective parent.

        Any approved agency making an investigation of the facts and circumstances surrounding the surrender of a child shall provide a prospective parent with all available information relevant to the child's de velopment, including his developmental and medical history, personality and temperament, the parents' complete medical histories, including conditions or diseases which are believed to be hereditary, any drugs or medications taken during pregnancy and any other conditions of the parents' health which may be a factor influencing the child's present or future health. Such information shall be made available to the prospective parent prior to the actual adoptive placement in the case of a placement made by an approved agency, or upon the completion of an investigation conducted by an approved agency pursuant to section 12 of P.L. 1977, c. 367 (C.9:3-48).
        b. The available information required of an approved agency by subsection a. of this section shall be presented to the adoptive parents on standardized forms prepared by the Commissioner of Human Services.

    L. 1979, c. 292, § 1

    The scheme fashioned by the legislature was intended to prevent subterfuge, kickbacks and, in short, baby selling. It also was intended to assure that biological and adopting parents acted freely and voluntarily and that they were fully knowledgeable and advised.
    The proposal here obviously could lead the parties to the easy conclusion that the attorney had influence over the agency which is charged with the responsibility of providing independent and objective investigations. Also, abuse of the system might be facilitated. Indeed, the very nature of the use of the same facility as proposed could lead a reasonable member of the general public to the conclusion that there was some inherent impropriety involved, whether or not so. Because of these concerns and others, the Committee is of the opinion that the proposed arrangement is improper and, therefore, cannot sanction it.

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