Abstract 99/00 - 01
Summary of Facts Provided
An attorney wishes to start a non-profit corporation, (the Center), which will provide low- or no- cost services to non-custodial parents regarding child support and parenting time. In addition, a state agency for whom the attorney provides clinics on the subject of parental responsibilities has requested that the attorney form a non-profit corporation to accept and manage grant funding.
Initially, the Center, through the attorney, will provide "unbundled" legal services, in accordance with newly revised C.R.C.P. 11(B), C.R.C.P. 311(B), C.R.C.P. 121, Section 1-1 (Comment) and Colo. RPC 1.2(c). The Center will also contract with the state for the clinics now being done by the attorney. It is anticipated that the Center will be recognized as a legal aid provider by the Colorado Supreme Court. The Center will also provide parenting classes, mental health consultation, group sessions, legal clinics, parenting time activities, library services and, at some future time, housing location assistance.
The attorney will be the attorney/director of the Center, will office at the Center, and may conduct a separate private practice out of the Center.
Issues and Conclusions
At the outset, what constitutes the practice of law, whether a non-profit corporation can engage in the practice of law, and what qualifies as a legal services organization, are questions of law, fact, or mixed questions of law and fact concerning which the Committee expresses no opinion. Nor does the Committee give any opinion or advice as to whether, from an ethical point of view, there may be another, or more preferable, entity for the activities in which the attorney and the Center wish to engage.
- Is it unethical for the attorney who is the only director of, and is hired by, the Center to provide legal services on behalf of the Center which also provides non-legal services? No, provided the Center qualifies as a "legal services organization" (LSO). An LSO is permitted to provide both legal and non-legal services. See Formal Opinion 106 (June 19, 1999).
- May non-lawyers serve as directors of the Center? Yes, non-lawyers may serve as directors (but not owners) of either an LSO or a private law firm subject to C.R.C.P. 265, which prohibits non-lawyer directors from exercising any authority over the entity's activities relating to the practice of law.
- Can the attorney conduct a private practice out of the Center? Yes, but there are several concerns which arise from this arrangement.
If the Center qualifies as an LSO the operation of a private practice of law in, but apart from, the Center would probably jeopardize the Center's status. In addition, the operation a separate private law practice out of the Center implicates ethical issues addressed in Formal Opinion 98 (December 14, 1996) on Dual Practices; most particularly, the use of the Center as a "feeder operation" for the separate private practice would be a violation of Colo. RPC 7.2(c) and 7.3(a).
If, however, the Center does not qualify as an LSO, but constitutes instead, a law firm, it may not provide non-legal services. C.R.C.P. 265 1.A.2; See Colo. RPC 5.4(d). And, while the Committee expresses no opinion as to what constitutes the practice of law, it seems highly likely that parenting classes, mental health consultation, group sessions, legal clinics, parenting time activities, library services and, at some future time, housing location assistance, would be found to be outside the scope of the practice of law.