ABA Formal Opinion 464 and Nonlawyer Partners: If You Can’t Have One, Can You Work With a Firm That Does?
In “ABA Formal Opinion 464 and Nonlawyer Partners: If You Can’t Have One, Can You Work With a Firm That Does?” Zuckerman Spaeder LLP partner Thomas B. Mason and associate Rachel F. Cotton analyze the many unresolved questions surrounding District of Columbia Rule 5.4(b), which permits lawyers to practice law in a partnership in which a nonlawyer also has a financial interest—a rule that is inconsistent with those in other legal jurisdictions across the country preventing nonlawyer ownership of firms. Mason and Cotton point out that overall treatment of attorneys working for firms with nonlawyer partners has not necessarily followed a steady trend. In addressing factors such as fee-sharing arrangements and practice privileges in other jurisdictions, bar association opinions on the subject span the range of generally permissive to significantly restrictive. The authors conclude that the newest opinion—ABA Formal Opinion 464, issued in August of 2013—straddles the inconsistencies of the previous opinions and fails to resolve the issue.