Ohio Joins New York in Approving the Use of Virtual Law Firms

In a recent Board Advisory Opinion, Ohio joined other states, like New York, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and New Jersey, in approving the use of virtual law firms. The opinion is the latest in a wave of decisions reflecting that inevitability of technological advancements in the practice of law.

The main hurdle in allowing virtual offices lies in Rule 7.2 of the Model Rules of Professional Conduct. Ohio, like other states, tracks the language of Rule 7.2, which requires advertising communications to include the “office address” responsible for the content of the communication. The Ohio Board Advisory Opinion does not remove the “office address” requirement from advertising communications. Rather, it allows those using a virtual law firm to list the “office address” as the “lawyer’s home or physical office, . . . shared office space, or a registered post office box.”

The Advisory Opinion also requires all lawyers who establish virtual offices to implement safeguards and be subjected to heightened scrutiny pertaining to “rules regarding competence, communication with clients, confidentiality, and the supervision of nonlawyer[] vendors.”  For instance, a lawyer must understand the technology and ensure confidential information is secure.  Given the nature of a virtual office, a lawyer be fully transparent with clients about the structure of the law firm and accommodate a client’s “preferred method of communication.”

As technology becomes more prevalent in the practice of law, we will continue to see how the rules of professional conduct are re-shaped to comport with these advancements.

Find the full opinion here.