Last week, the Supreme Court of Delaware suspended an attorney from practicing law within the state for a two-year period for, among other things, not having a "bona fide office." What? Yep, at FindLaw we do a fine job of letting you know where to work effectively when not in an office, things to consider if you need an office, and how to choose the right virtual law office for your practice -- but this all begs the question -- ethically, can you even have a virtual law office?
The answer is yes -- and no -- it all depends on your jurisdiction. Apparently, in Delaware, the "bona fide office" requirement is alive and well, unlike its neighbor New Jersey, which just this year disposed of its version of the "bona fide office" rule, according to Bloomberg BNA.
In addition to accounting misconduct, the Supreme Court of Delaware took umbrage at the attorney's misrepresentation of facts as to his characterization of his working arrangements. The court noted that phone/remote access was not enough to satisfy the "bona fide" office requirement under Rule 12, reports the ABA Journal.
So, the next question is -- how do we not be like that guy? Simple. Do your homework (dumb pun fully intended). Here are some steps to take before making the leap into the world of eLaw.
1. Research the Ethics Rules
Every state has ethics rules that address the requirements of practicing law in the state; see if the state that you are licensed to practice in has a "bona fide office" requirement. If yes, then skip to the end. If no, then continue to the next question.
2. Requirements for Virtual Office
Chances are, if virtual offices are allowed, there are still minimum requirements that must be met. Make sure you are in compliance, or it could mean your license -- and livelihood!
3. Home Office -- Tax Issues
If you are permitted to have a home office, then take full advantage of the tax benefits of such an office. Of course, with all things IRS-related there are rules -- so make sure you comply with the IRS requirements of a home office to get the added benefit of not only working in your pajamas, but getting a tax deduction too.
Losing your license, or even getting suspended for a period of time, is no laughing matter. How are you going to pay the bills? Before you take the leap into the world of virtual law, review your ethical obligations for each jurisdiction you practice in.What are your tips for meeting ethical obligations while working from a virtual law office? Share them with us on Facebook at FindLaw for Legal Professionals.