Updated Advisory Opinion on Ethical Practices of the Virtual and Hybrid Law Office

Legal Scale

Over the last five years, many lawyers began the transition to remote work—then the pandemic added even more coal to the fire. Accelerated adoption of remote and hybrid work, however, did not mean there haven’t been questions about how to do so properly.

The Committee on Professional Ethics recently released a new and improved advisory opinion which answers many questions about practicing in a remote or hybrid law office. “Ethical Practices of the Virtual or Hybrid Law Office” updates an opinion first published in 2016 and adds many topics relevant to today’s practice.

“Do I need a physical office address for the bar?” “Do I need to post an address in advertisements?” These are some of the questions that we’ve been receiving at the WSBA Ethics Line. Advisory Opinion 201601 addresses these questions and gives practical tips for navigating the practice of law in an online world. Bear in mind that this opinion is advisory, and the ethics opinions of other professionals, courts, or the state may come to a different conclusion.

Just because you’ve moved some of your work from a physical office to your own kitchen table doesn’t mean that your legal ethical responsibilities have relaxed. Your duties of confidentiality, supervision, and secure data storage, for example, all must be dealt with. This opinion walks you through what you need to consider.

In our current legal environment, not only are Washington lawyers increasingly practicing away from their physical law office, many lawyers are interested in practicing while located outside their state of licensure. (A winter in Maui anyone?) Or perhaps other dynamics make moving to another state desirable. Remote practice makes these options possible, but the ethical implications of working outside the state of licensure must be addressed. For example, what do you need to do about IOLTA accounts? This updated opinion identifies the ethical issues you’ll need to explore if you are considering or are already working remotely in another state.

Similarly, lawyers from other states sometimes contact the Ethics Line to ask if it’s OK for them to practice law of the state in which they are licensed, but while they are located in Washington. They often tell us they are tucked away in their homes, having moved to Washington, not opening an office in Washington, but still hoping to keep their clients and practice from their original state. We are happy to walk callers through the considerations, but now there’s a written opinion that folks can refer to.