States That Require a Bona Fide Office

Although most states have come around — a mere five years or so after everyone else —  to being comfortable with lawyers storing data in the cloud, that semi-forward thinking is not extended to being comfortable with lawyers not having an office. A few state bars have issued ethics opinions explicitly affirming your right to go virtual, but several still retain the “bona fide office” rule, which says you have to have an actual physical office in order to practice in the state.

And then there is the weird middle ground: many states track the language of Model Rule 7.2, which states that if a lawyer advertises, they must “include the name and office address of at least one lawyer or law firm responsible for its content.” A cautious reading of that would be to assume that state requires you to maintain an actual office. A less cautious reading would be to assume that state only wishes you to provide some sort of address on your advertising materials.

Here’s where all fifty states (and the District of Columbia) stand on the issue right now.

StateOffice Requirement
AlabamaNo clear prohibition against having a virtual law office.
AlaskaA bona fide office is required. Under rule 7.2 of the Alaska Rules of Professional Conduct, any attorney advertisement "shall include the name and office address of at least one lawyer or law firm responsible for its content."
ArizonaNo clear prohibition against having a virtual law office.
ArkansasNo clear prohibition against having a virtual law office.
California No clear prohibition against having a virtual law office. California has sanctioned virtual law offices from a technology security perspective, but has not otherwise addressed the issue.
PennsylvaniaPennsylvania has issued an ethics opinion that states that virtual law offices are permitted.
DelawareDelaware requires a bona fide office in the state and suspended an attorney for two years for maintaining only a virtual office.
New YorkNew York has issued an ethics opinion that it is permissible to use a virtual law office address to satisfy the "principal law office address" requirement in the New York rules if the attorney is a New York resident. If the attorney is licensed in New York but resides elsewhere, New York statutes currently require the nonresident attorney to maintain an office, although a current lawsuit may change that.
ColoradoA bona fide office is required. Under rule 7.2 of the Colorado Rules of Professional Conduct, any attorney advertisement "shall include the name and office address of at least one lawyer or law firm responsible for its content."
North CarolinaNorth Carolina has issued an ethics opinion that states that virtual law offices are permitted.
FloridaA bona fide office is required. Under Florida Rules of Professional Conduct 4-7.12, all advertisements must include "the city, town, or county of 1 or more bona fide office locations of the lawyer who will perform the services advertised."
GeorgiaUnclear. Rule 7.2 of the Georgia Rules of Professional Conduct states that "any advertisement shall include the name, physical location and telephone number of each lawyer or law firm who paid for the advertisement and who takes full personal responsibility for the advertisement." However, the rule goes on to say that in the absence of a bona fide physical office, the lawyer may disclose the full address to the Georgia Bar instead.
HawaiiNo clear prohibition against having a virtual law office.
IdahoA bona fide office is required. Under Idaho Rules of Professional Conduct Rule 7.2, all advertisements must include "the name and office address of at least one lawyer or law firm responsible for its content."
IllinoisA bona fide office is required. Under Illinois Rules of Professional Conduct Rule 7.2, all advertisements must include "the name and office address of at least one lawyer or law firm responsible for its content."
IndianaA bona fide office is required. Under Indiana Rules of Professional Conduct Rule 7.2, all advertisements must include "the name and office address of at least one lawyer or law firm responsible for its content."
IowaA bona fide office is required. Under Iowa Rules of Professional Conduct Rule 37:7:2, all advertisements must include "the name and office of at least one lawyer or law firm responsible for the content."
KansasNo clear prohibition against having a virtual law office.
KentuckyNo clear prohibition against having a virtual law office.
LouisianaNo clear prohibition against having a virtual law office.
MaineA bona fide office is required. Under Maine Bar Rules Rule 7.2, all advertisements must include "the name and office address of at least one lawyer or law firm responsible for its content."
MarylandNo clear prohibition against having a virtual law office.
Massachusetts No clear prohibition against having a virtual law office.
MichiganNo clear prohibition against having a virtual law office.
MinnesotaNo clear prohibition against having a virtual law office.
MississippiUnclear. Mississippi Rules of Professional Conduct Rule 7.2 states that an advertisement "shall disclose the geographic location by city and state of one or more offices of the lawyer or lawyers whose services are advertised or shall state that additional information about the lawyer or firm can be obtained by contacting the Mississippi Bar at a number designated by the Bar and included in the advertisement."
MissouriNo clear prohibition against having a virtual law office.
MontanaA bona fide office is required. Under Montana Rules of Professional Conduct Rule 7.2, all advertisements must include "the name and office address of at least one lawyer or law firm responsible for its content."
NebraskaA bona fide office is required. Under Nebraska Rules of Professional Conduct Rule 3-507.2, all advertisements must include "the name and office address of at least one lawyer or law firm responsible for its content."
NevadaNo clear prohibition against having a virtual law office.
New HampshireA bona fide office is required. Under New Hampshire Rules of Professional conduct Rule 7.2, all advertisements must include "the name and office address of at least one lawyer or law firm responsible for its content."
New JerseyNew Jersey's Rules of Practice explicitly allow for virtual law offices.
New MexicoNo clear prohibition against having a virtual law office.
North DakotaA bona fide office is required. Under North Dakota Rules of Professional Conduct Rule 7.2, all advertisements must include "the name and office address of at least one lawyer or law firm responsible for its contents."
OhioA bona fide office is required. Under Ohio Dakota Rules of Professional Conduct Rule 7.2, all advertisements must include "the name and office address of at least one lawyer or law firm responsible for its contents."
OklahomaA bona fide office is required. Under Oklahoma Dakota Rules of Professional Conduct Rule 7.2, all advertisements must include "the name and office address of at least one lawyer or law firm responsible for its contents."
OregonA bona fide office is required. Under Oregon Rules of Professional Conduct Rule 7.2, all advertisements must include "the name and office address of at least one lawyer or law firm responsible for its contents."
Rhode IslandA bona fide office is required. Under Rhode Island Rules of Professional Conduct Rule 7.2, all advertisements must include "the name and office address of at least one lawyer or law firm responsible for its contents."
South CarolinaA bona fide office is required. Under South Carolina Rules of Professional Conduct Rule 7.2, all advertisements must include "the name and office address of at least one lawyer or law firm responsible for its contents."
South DakotaA bona fide office is required. Under South Dakota Rules of Professional Conduct Rule 7.2, all advertisements must include "the name and office address of at least one lawyer or law firm responsible for its contents."
TennesseeA bona fide office is required. Under Tennessee Rules of Professional Conduct Rule 7.2, all advertisements must include "the name and office address of at least one lawyer or law firm assuming responsibility for the communication."
TexasNo clear prohibition against having a virtual law office.
UtahA bona fide office is required. Under Utah Rules of Professional Conduct Rule 7.2, all advertisements must include "the name and office address of at least one lawyer or law firm responsible for its contents."
VermontA bona fide office is required. Under Vermont Rules of Professional Conduct Rule 7.2, all advertisements must include "the name and office address of at least one lawyer or law firm responsible for its contents."
VirginiaUnclear. Rule 7.1 of the Virginia Rules of Professional Conduct states that all advertising must include "the name and office address of at least one lawyer responsible for its content; or, in the alternative, a law firm may file with the Virginia State Bar a current written statement identifying the lawyer responsible for the law firm’s advertising and its office address." However, a 2013 ethics opinion seems to consider the possibility of virtual offices.
WashingtonA bona fide office is required. Under Washington Rules of Professional Conduct Rule 7.2 all advertisements must include "the name and office address of at least one lawyer or law firm responsible for its contents."
West VirginiaNo clear prohibition against having a virtual office.
WisconsinA bona fide office is required. Under Wisconsin Rules of Professional Conduct Rule 7.2, all advertisements must include "the name and office address of at least one lawyer or law firm responsible for its contents."
WyomingA bona fide office is required. Under Wyoming Rules of Professional Conduct Rule 7.2, all advertisements must include "the name and office address of at least one lawyer or law firm responsible for its contents."
Washington D.C.No clear prohibition against having a virtual office.
ConnecticutNo clear prohibition against having a virtual office

Featured image: “woman handcuffed to her desk at work” from Shutterstock.

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  • Brandon

    I think the Florida rule requires advertisements to state an office, but the cited rule doesn’t require an office if you are not advertising…

  • Will Hornsby

    ABA Model Rule 7.2, which has been adopted by many states, requires a lawyer who advertises to include in the advertisement the name and address of the advertising lawyer. This is not a bona fide office requirement. It is an obligation, only of lawyers who advertise, that enables disciplinary agencies to contact the lawyer or firm if they believe there is a need to do so. This is not unlike the obligation of lawyers to include an address with their registration information. It is over-inclusive to indicate that lawyers in states following MR 7.2 have a bona fide office requirement.

    • “It is an obligation, only of lawyers who advertise …”

      Fair point, but doesn’t that effectively cover 100% of lawyers who are trying to operate a virtual law practice? It’s hard to imagine how you could have a virtual law practice without a web presence, which probably constitutes an advertisement.

      • Will Hornsby

        Sam, you can have a virtual office without a bona fide office, but still need an address for the purpose of registration. Is there any state that admits a lawyer to its practice rolls without a physical address? The MR 7.2 requirement is not the same as a bona fide office. A bona fide office is typically defined to be a place where a lawyer receives mail and meets clients. It’s not the same as an office address that is required when disciplinary counsel wants to pursue an investigation.

        • Ah, I think I see the difference. It’s a mailing address v. a bona fide office.

          Or is it? Would a PO box suffice? Does the address have to be in that state?

          • Will Hornsby

            MR 7.2 and the Comment make no mention of a PO box one way or another. I suspect some states have interpreted an office address to be a physical place, but since the purpose of the rule is to contact a lawyer who may be in violation of the advertising rules, makes sense that a PO box would be acceptable. Likewise, the MR does not state the address has to be in the state. Ads/websites for AmLaw 200 firms would suggest the office address need not be in the state where the ad appears in order to comply with MR 7.2

          • Tim Reineke

            This article suggests that only 6 states have a bona fide office rule. https://www.udayton.edu/law/_resources/documents/law_review/practicing_law_without_an_office_address.pdf

    • Aiden Kramer

      Thanks for pointing that out. I’m in Colorado and originally started with a virtual office before getting a physical office about six months in. I did not interpret Rule 7.2 the same way the article did, so I was relieved to see that you addressed that!

  • Cade Parian

    Very interesting post. I practice personal injury law about 9 miles from the Alabama/Georgia border in Carrollton, GA. http://www.westgalawyer.com —- I inquired to the Alabama bar (which I am a member of) about running some ads in Alabama. They told me that I needed a physical office presence in Alabama. Of course, with all of the new-fangled “office address/share” locations out there, I was able to get a physical office presence in Birmingham, AL for just over $100/month. Technology is changing our job for the good!!!