You have asked the Committee for an opinion regarding the propriety of a New Jersey law firm hiring you as a partner to handle work in Pennsylvania. Any additional attorneys hired to do Pennsylvania work will be admitted to the Pennsylvania Bar. The firm will be opening an office in Pennsylvania as well.
You have the following concerns: 1) Is there a problem with improper fee sharing as the other partners are only admitted in New Jersey and not Pennsylvania? 2) Is there a problem with the New Jersey attorneys being on letterhead for the Pennsylvania office provided their jurisdictional limitations are noted on the letterhead?
Effective April 1, 1988, ethical conduct in Pennsylvania is governed by the Pennsylvania Rules of Professional Conduct. Rule 1.5(e) governing fees provides that:
A lawyer shall not divide a fee for legal services with another lawyer who is not in the same firm unless:
(1) the client is advised of and does not object to the participation of all the lawyers involved, and
(2) the total fee of the lawyers is not illegal or clearly excessive for all legal services they rendered the client.
Rule 7.5(b), governing firm names and letterheads, provides that:
A law firm with offices in more than one jurisdiction may use the same name in each jurisdiction, but identification of the lawyers in an office of the firm shall indicate the jurisdictional limitation on those not licensed to practice in the jurisdiction where the office is located.
Clearly, the text of Rule 1.5(e) contemplates that a law firm may divide fees among its partners. There is no indication and no requirement that all the attorneys sharing in the firm be licensed in Pennsylvania. As a practical matter, more and more firms are opening branch offices not only in different states but also in different countries. Admission to the bar of these states or countries, provided the fee splitting is among members of the same firm, is not necessary and such a practice does not pose any ethical problem in Pennsylvania.
As Rule 7.5(b) indicates, you may use letterhead showing all the firm members (partners and associates) provided you clearly delineate the jurisdictional limitations of those attorneys who are not admitted in Pennsylvania. In the alternative, you may use letterhead with the firm name and the Pennsylvania address, without individual listing of the other partners or associates in the firm. Please note that simple use of the firm name, (as opposed to individual listing on the letterhead), which will obviously include partners not admitted in Pennsylvania, would not require delineation of the jurisdictional limitations of those partners.
In closing, as the expanded firm will also be operating in New Jersey, the Committee suggests that you contact the Office of Attorney Ethics of the Supreme Court of New Jersey to make sure that your proposed structure does not pose any ethical problems in that state.
- For Members
- For the Public