CONFLICT OF INTERESTIf two attorneys share an office and use on their letterhead "Law Offices of A and B" and also sign pleadings in this manner in cases where either or both appear as counsel, even though each attorney maintains his files separately and fees are sometimes divided but sometimes not and their operations are such that it may be assumed that they are not partners, the relationship between them would nevertheless be considered so close that it would be unethical for one of the attorneys to accept employment by one party in a case when the attorney with whom he offices has discussed the case with but has declined employment by the opposing party in the case.
A and B, duly licensed attorneys, have officed together for some time. Their letterheads are printed "Law Offices of A & B," and pleadings are signed in this manner when filed by either attorney in cases where either or both appears as counsel for one of the parties. However, each attorney keeps his files separately and, in some instances, one or the other might retain all of a fee and, in other instances, the fee is divided between the two.
C goes to A and discusses the merits of a case he has against D. After such discussion, A declines employment, whereupon C employs Attorney E to represent him in his suit against D. Thereafter, D employs B to represent him. Is it ethical, under such circumstances for B to represent D?
It has been clearly established that, when A and B are partners and one becomes disqualified to represent D, both are disqualified to represent D. See Opinions 100, 197, 234, 243 and ABA Opinion 33. Thereafter, if in the present inquiry A and B are partners, B is disqualified to represent D for the reason that A became disqualified to represent D by discussing the matter with C when C tendered employment. See Opinion 59.
The question of whether or not A and B are partners is one of partnership law and of facts and one which this committee cannot answer. However, assuming (without deciding) that A and B are not partners, the committee may consider whether or not the relationship between A and B is so close that the disqualification of A works a disqualification of B. On this point, the committee is of the opinion that the relationship is so close that B is disqualified because of As disqualification and that B would violate Canon 6 by representing D without the consent of C. See ABA Opinion 104. The following authorities lend further support to this view: Opinion 187, ABA Opinion 296, and Opinion 67. (9-0.)