Legal Ownership of Angel's Law Firm

Wolfram & Hart is a demonic law firm on the TV show Angel. Angel, the vampire cursed with a soul, battles it for four seasons until, in a stunning move, the firm offers him leadership of is Los Angeles branch office.

Angel, it's worth noting, is not a lawyer. But he's in charge of a law firm. Is this legal? According to attorney James Daily, it probably is, but it's bad practice:

It’s possible that Angel could be paid an ordinary salary (profit-sharing with non-lawyers is another no-no under 5.4(a)) and not have an ownership stake in the firm. That would take care of subsection (1). And it’s possible that procedures could be put in place such that he would not have the right to direct or control the professional judgment of Wolfram & Hart’s lawyers. For example, his role could be limited to managing marketing, non-lawyer human resources, information technology, investments by the firm, etc, with no control over how the firm handles cases. That could possibly take care of (3). But (2) is a killer. It strictly forbids a non-lawyer from being a corporate director or officer (in a professional corporation) or having a similar position (in a non-corporation). The CEO is such a position.

But, all is not lost. These are only the model rules. What matters is California’s own rules. And as it turns out, California doesn’t have an equivalent of Model Rule 5.4(d). There is California Rule 1-310, which states that “A member shall not form a partnership with a person who is not a lawyer if any of the activities of that partnership consist of the practice of law.” But Angel isn’t forming a partnership with the lawyers of Wolfram & Hart. ”A partnership generally involves a joint ownership and can be evidenced by firm name, declarations of coownership, or sharing of profits.” Los Angeles County Bar Association Ethics Opinion No. 518 (citing Crawford v. State Bar, 54 Cal. 2d 659, 667 (1960)). As long as Angel does not share profits with the firm (i.e. is paid a fixed salary) or have any ownership interest in it, then it doesn’t appear to be a partnership.[...]

True to form, Wolfram & Hart seems to be on slightly ethically shaky but technically legal grounds. Although I don’t think this arrangement would work in many other states, it’s possible that it would work in California. If I were Wolfram & Hart I would probably ask the State Bar of California for an advisory opinion before I hired Angel, though.

Link | Photo: Warner Bros.

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