Be Careful When Engaging in “Dual Professions”

Clients often look for lawyers who can provide a full spectrum of services, and likewise, lawyers see the business opportunities in marketing themselves as a one-stop shop for their clients. It is not improper for lawyers to engage in more than one profession at the same time, providing both legal and nonlegal services such as tax preparation, accounting, financial and business planning, investment banking, real estate brokering, and public relations, to name just a few. However, most state rules of professional conduct and the ABA Model Rules require that if the lawyer provides nonlegal services in conjunction with legal services, he or she must comply with the rules of professional conduct with respect to all services. ABA Model Rule 5.7 provides (a) A lawyer shall be subject to the Rules of Professional Conduct with respect to the provision of law-related services, as defined in paragraph (b), if the law-related services are provided: (1) by the lawyer in circumstances that are not distinct from the lawyer's provision of legal services to clients; or (2) in other circumstance by an entity controlled by the lawyer individually or with others if the lawyer fails to take reasonable measures to assure that a person obtaining the law-related services knows that the services are not legal services and that the protections of the client-lawyer relationship do not exist. (b) The term “law-related services” denotes services that might reasonably be performed in conjunction with and in substance are related to the provision of legal services, and that are not prohibited as unauthorized practice of law when provided by a non-lawyer. Lawyers can run afoul with this rule where the dual professions are governed by conflicting requirements. For example, a lawyer that also acts as a real estate broker for a single transaction may not be able to comply with the rules of professional conduct because the duty of confidentiality as a lawyer may conflict with disclosure requirements imposed on him or her as a broker. Cal. State Bar Form.Opn. 1982-69. If the lawyer operates a separate business that serves as a companion to his or her legal services, careful consideration should be paid to delineating the distinction between the two entities to avoid any confusion. Matter of Schneider, 710 N.E.2d 178 (Ind. 1999).