Avoiding Liability in Office Sharing Environments
Lawyers often share office space with other lawyers with no intent to form a partnership in order to save money on office expenses. Unfortunately, not all formal papers are required to form a partnership and lawyers sharing office space are at great risk for shared liabilities and malpractice claims.
Generally you want you avoid being in an apparent partnership. Under the general law of a partnership, if your ‘partner’ incurs a debt or makes a mistake, you may also be liable.
On a practical basis, here are some things you can do in a space-share situation to avoid shared liabilities:
- Make sure your retainer letter, business cards, websites, and all other marketing materials clearly state that you are “sharing space with X, Y, and Z” who are practitioners independent of each other
- Do not answer phones, create letterheads, or create any materials that say “X,Y,Z & Associates” or any variations of that.
- Do not render bills or send out accounts under any name other than your own
- Keep your own general and trust accounts separate from the accounts of all others
Lawyers who are not partners or associates in a traditional firm, and who share a space have a duty of confidentiality owed to their clients. Breaches of confidentiality within the office can create liability even when lawyers successfully act in a manner that avoids partnership liability.
For more information, see: Law Society of British Columbia - Lawyers Sharing Space