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A 60-hour work week can get pretty unbearable with no one around with whom to occasionally shoot the breeze or share a couple jokes. But even solos need not toil away in complete isolation just because, well, they’re solos and they’ve decided they’d rather be responsible for their own professional successes and failures than work under the constraints of law firm practice. As the countless space-sharing arrangements across Connecticut attest, they can get much of the same camaraderie that exists among law firm colleagues gathering around the office water-cooler, without sacrificing their entrepreneurial independence. And just like roommates can pool their money together for that flat-screen TV at Best Buy, space-sharing solos can obtain “luxuries” — receptionists, conference rooms, Lexis access — otherwise out of their financial reach. For solos with upscale clients to impress, there’s shared office suites with mahogany and marble lobbies on par with those offered at some of the state’s largest law firms. Perhaps best of all, there’s someone just down the hall with whom to bounce around legal theories or who can provide emergency courtroom coverage when hearings overlap or, heaven forbid, when a vacation is in urgent need. Like roommates, solos shacking up together, in the professional sense, have to take the good with the bad, and expect to occasionally put up with the officemate who can’t cover his or her portion of that month’s bills — or worse yet, ups and moves without prior notice. Mutual respect, however, is only part of a successful space-sharing arrangement. There needs to be pre-established boundaries and a lot of common sense. Walking into a housemate’s room unannounced can spark an embarrassing moment. In an office suite full of lawyers, it can breach client confidentiality, no matter how innocent the intruder’s intentions. At many shared offices, lawyers abide by an unwritten rule not to take a case on the opposite side of one of their officemates, if only to avoid the appearance of impropriety. Some resort to rigorous client-conflict checks. Unlike for law firms, however, there’s no clear ethical requirements that they do so. Though solos risk being disqualified from representing adversaries of their officemates’ clients, such disqualifications are rare. And with everyone trying to scrape up business, such precautions can get lost in the shuffle. Officemates opposing one another in litigation can effectively mitigate the potential for ethical lapses, but it takes unrelenting foresight and self-control, especially when shared fax machines and receptionists are involved. Rule No. 1 is never go into that opposing counsel office, or anyone’s else’s for that matter, when he or she isn’t there — there’s no telling what confidential papers might be sitting on their desk. Lawyers who’ve gone through the experience of being on the opposite side of an attorney they share space with say they also have to fight the urge, after hours, to grab whatever comes over the fax machine without looking at the coversheet first. Also, “you make sure clients know the fax may not be a secure means by which to communicate privileged information,” one attorney advised. Lawyers in that situation should direct their secretary, if that person is located in a common area not behind closed doors, to shut down their computer screens before heading off to lunch. In addition, it’s a good idea to caution the receptionist against yelling out the names of clients waiting on hold. Picking up the telephone when it’s ringing unabated can also bring peril, unless the practice is for lawyers to announce their names before the caller begins speaking. Indeed, in office-sharing arrangements, having your own telephone line and doing your own advertising not only reduces bill-splitting headaches, but can keep ethical headaches from coming on as well. Rule 7.5(d) of the Connecticut Rules of Professional Conduct forbids space-sharing solos from misleading the public by marketing themselves as a firm. “Lawyers may state or imply that they practice in a partnership or other organization only when that is the fact,” according to the rule. That means making it clear on letterhead and any sign out front that lawyers in a shared office aren’t in practice together and share no responsibility for one another’s clients. The easiest approach is to leave plenty of space between the lawyers’ names listed on any signage. When there is just a single telephone line, having the receptionist greet callers with a simple “Law Offices” is generally acceptable, though not ideal. Just as it is for a law firm, picking who to accept into the mix shouldn’t be taken lightly. One inconsiderate officemate can make an attorney yearn for true solo-hood. The advantages — economic and for sanity’s sake — of being part of a collective workplace, however, make it worth the risk.

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