The New Jersey State Bar Association's Advisory Committees on Professional Ethics and Attorney Advertising issued a joint opinion on March 26th effectively banning lawyers from creating virtual law offices. The decision requires every attorney to maintain a permanent address. This comes as virtual law offices, in which the attorney maintains an online or "virtual" law office and rents office space as needed, are growing in popularity. According to New Jersey State Bar Chief Allen Etish, "[t]he need for a bona fide office is necessary," while acknowledging "that the idea of a virtual office needs more study," noting that virtual law offices are "not totally wild-eyed or preposterous."
It is very good to hear that the New Jersey State Bar is interesting in further examining the use of virtual offices, but in rendering its opinion has shown a reluctance to embrace current trends in legal practice that might help make the law more affordable for consumers. The decision effectively requires an attorney to either maintain a permanent office or to create one in their home, which creates problems for attorneys who'd like to keep a home office, but do not want to use it to meet with clients or to list the address for privacy and security reasons. For consumers, office space contributes to the attorney's overhead, which can increase the costs for that attorney's services. Allowing attorneys to maintain virtual offices would help them provide consumers with lower cost alternatives to a traditional law office.