Each quarter, we feature "Ask the Underwriter" with Wilma S. Fields, CPCU, CIC, Vice President and Underwriter. Each quarter, Wilma answers a new question frequently asked by our insureds and potential insureds.
This quarter, she tackles, "What exposure does office sharing present, and how can I protect myself in these arrangements?"
Most attorneys are aware that they are liable for acts, errors, or omissions which they commit, or which are committed by partners or associates. However, office-sharing arrangements can create situations in which liability is imposed upon an attorney for the acts of another attorney with whom office space is shared. If it is so determined to be a de facto partnership, office sharers may be held vicariously liable for the acts of another.
Here are a few suggestions for avoiding or minimizing liability from office-sharing arrangements:
Office signs should clearly delineate whether attorneys in the office belong to a partnership, or professional association, or are solo practitioners.
Letterhead should be reviewed, with each attorney only using the appropriate letterhead for their practice.
The manner in which the telephones are answered is also important. The answer should not indicate only one attorney or firm when many attorneys use the office.
The terms of the office sharing should be formalized in a written agreement, which would be a helpful defense in the claim of a partnership.
If members of an office share association are uninsured, the attorney or office sharer that is insured may become liable. It is a good practice that all office sharers have their own malpractice policy.