Advisory Opinion: 1831

Year Issued: 1998

Subject: Proposed nationwide internet law firm


I have been instructed by the Rules of Professional Conduct Committee to respond to your ethics inquiry #1831 concerning the opening of a National Internet Law Office. The Committee has reviewed your inquiry and determined the following:

The Committee expressed concern over many aspects of the proposed Internet Legal Clinic, and it is the opinion of the Committee that specific portions of your proposal are not in compliance with the Rules of Professional Conduct.

The name of the firm may currently be in conflict with RPC 7.5, although a proposal to change the rule regarding the use of trade name is pending. Beyond the trade name aspect, however, the implications about having a firm with active members in every jurisdiction would probably be contrary to the requirements of RPC 7.2 and 7.5(d). See Formal Opinion 87 and 178.

The mechanisms to detect and deal with conflicts of interest do not appear to be sufficient to comply with the requirements of RPC 1.10. See Formal Opinion 109 and 145. It appears that the current structure would not constitute a regular law firm for the purpose of splitting fees under RPC 1.5(e) and that the proposed fee splitting arrangement would not be in compliance with the rules. See Formal Opinion 10.

Concerns were also raised about the ability to comply with RPC 1.14 and/or equivalent requirements for each state as your proposal was currently structured, as well as RPC 1.6 (to the extent that alternative modes of communication are not readily encouraged). See Informal Opinion 91-1.

Making suggestions on how to rework your proposal to be in compliance with the RPCs would constitute the provision of legal advice that is specifically beyond the authority of the Committee.

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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.