Advisory Opinion: 184

Year Issued: 1990

RPC(s): RPC 5.8(b), Oregon Formal Opinion 2005-24

Subject: Lawyer in Good Standing May Not Employ a Disbarred Lawyer in Connection with the Practice of Law

In 1978, Formal Opinion #171 was adopted which stated that

"an attorney in good standing who hires a disbarred lawyer in any capacity could be subject to discipline for a violation of the [former] Discipline Rules for Attorneys."

The Board of Governors is of the opinion that the Rules for Lawyer Discipline do not require an absolute prohibition against employing disbarred lawyers "in any capacity" and therefore believes that Formal Opinion #171 should be withdrawn. This opinion does not address the employment of suspended lawyers.

The Rules of Professional Conduct address the issue at RPC 5.8(b):

A lawyer shall not engage in any of the following with an individual who is a disbarred or suspended lawyer or who has resigned in lieu of disbarment:

(1) practice law with or in cooperation with such an individual;
(2) maintain an office for the practice of law in a room or office occupied or used in whole or in part by such an individual;
(3) permit such an individual to use the lawyer's name for the practice of law;
(4) practice law for or on behalf of such an individual; or
(5) practice law under any arrangement or understanding for division of fees or compensation of any kind with such an individual.

This rule prohibits a lawyer from hiring or employing a disbarred lawyer in connection with or related to the practice of law. It does not prohibit a lawyer from hiring a disbarred lawyer in capacities not involving the practice of law. Thus, a lawyer may employ a disbarred lawyer in other, nonlaw-related capacities from such mundane tasks as mowing lawns or washing windows, to more sophisticated employment such as managing a business or property not related to the lawyer’s practice of law.

This rule clearly prohibits a lawyer from sharing offices with a disbarred lawyer or having any arrangement with a disbarred lawyer which relates to the practice of law. A disbarred lawyer may not be employed as a paralegal or law clerk, may not be employed to do legal research or writing, or work as a law office secretary or other office employee. Neither may a disbarred lawyer be employed as an investigator, messenger or accountant in connection with a lawyer’s law practice, because that would constitute a violation of the prohibition against "practic[ing] law under any arrangement or understanding for division of fees or compensation of any kind” with a disbarred lawyer.

We recognize that other jurisdictions may have different rules regarding the employment of disbarred lawyers, (see, e.g., Oregon Formal Opinion 2005-24). We are of the opinion that the restrictions imposed by RPC 5.8(b) do not prohibit a Washington lawyer from associating with a lawyer or law firm which employs a disbarred lawyer or lawyers in a jurisdiction which permits it, nor does the rule prohibit a lawyer practicing law in Washington from being a member of a law firm with offices in such a jurisdiction.

Formal Opinion #171 is withdrawn.

[amended 2009]


Advisory Opinions are provided for the education of the Bar and reflect the opinion of the Committee on Professional Ethics (CPE) or its predecessors. Advisory Opinions are provided pursuant to the authorization granted by the Board of Governors, but are not individually approved by the Board and do not reflect the official position of the Bar association. Laws other than the Washington State Rules of Professional Conduct may apply to the inquiry. The Committee's answer does not include or opine about any other applicable law other than the meaning of the Rules of Professional Conduct.