Does Louisiana Permit Lawyers to Engage in a “Virtual” Law Practice?

Virtual Law PracticeYes. Some states, such as New Jersey, have wrestled with the issue of whether to allow or to prohibit “virtual” lawyering—that is, lawyering without a physical law office located in the jurisdiction. No provision of the Louisiana Rules of Professional Conduct expressly permits a Louisiana lawyer to work out of a “virtual” law office. However, no provision expressly prohibits such a practice, and Rule 7.2 implicitly permits it. That rule provides as follows:

All advertisements and unsolicited written communications provided for under these Rules shall disclose, by city or town, one or more bona fide office location(s) of the lawyer or lawyers who will actually perform the services advertised. If the office location is outside a city or town, the parish where the office is located must be disclosed. For the purposes of this Rule, a bona fide office is defined as a physical location maintained by the lawyer or law firm where the lawyer or law firm reasonably expects to furnish legal services in a substantial way on a regular and continuing basis, and which physical location shall have at least one lawyer who is regularly and routinely present in that physical location. In the absence of a bona fide office, the lawyer shall disclose the city or town of the primary registration statement address as it appears on the lawyer’s annual registration statement.

Rule 7.2(a)(2) (emphasis added). By acknowledging that some lawyer-advertisers might practice “[i]n the absence of a bona fide office,” Rule 7.2 clearly reflects that there is nothing inherently objectionable about practicing without a physical law office.

Assuming that this practice is unobjectionable, what should a virtual lawyer do to assure compliance with the Louisiana Rules of Professional Conduct? Here are a few “dos” and “don’ts” for the virtual practitioner:

  • Do store your clients’ data securely. While locks and alarm systems protect client data at a traditional law office, the virtual lawyer needs to protect client data stored in the cloud using encrypted storage services and strong passwords. And don’t forget to back up that data using redundant technology. For more on the issues associated with a lawyer’s cloud storage of client data, see Cloud Computing Ethics.
  • Don’t mislead prospective clients into thinking you have a physical office when you do not. See Louisiana Rule 7.2(c)(1) (prohibiting false or misleading statements).
  • Don’t engage in the unauthorized practice of law. Before forming a lawyer-client relationship, assure that the prospective client wants advice relating to Louisiana law or attendant to an actual or prospective proceeding in a Louisiana tribunal. See Louisiana Rule 5.5 (unauthorized practice of law).