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Leaving A Law Firm: Some Resources and a Request

by Carolyn Elefant on August 15, 2005 · 6 comments

in Ethics & Malpractice Issues, Leaving A Firm, Questions & Advice

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A reader who’s currently employed but actively planning to start a firm recently posed the following question to MyShingle:

How do I announce to my current employer my intentions to start a firm and leave on friendly terms but still take the clients whom I’d like to take with me (assuming the client wants to leave)?

Our reader is seeking resources on this topic as well as personal experience from other readers who’ve successfully navigated the transition from law firm employment to solo practice without burning bridges or losing clients.

I’ve jumped to the rescue on the resource end.  Below is a quick list of articles and ethics opinions that deal with ethical considerations of leaving a firm and soliciting or taking clients.  Essentially, most of the opinions acknowlege that both the firm and the departing attorney must act in the client’s best interest by taking whatever actions are necessary to ensure that the client can choose to remain with the firm or follow the departing lawyer.  At the same time, departing lawyers must steer clear of soliciting clients while on the firm’s dime or taking files which are considered firm property without permission from the firm or the client:

1) MyShingle post on the right way and wrong way to leave a law firm.

2) Utah ethics opinion on departing lawyers

3) South Carolina LPM materials on lawyer transitions, including a sample letter notifying clients about their rights to their files.

4) San Diego Bar Association opinion on departing lawyers.

5) New Hampshire opinion on departing lawyers.

6) Summary of Florida’s new rule (2004) on ethics relating to lawyers leaving firms.

7) Wisconsin Bar Journal article on departing lawyers and sample departure letter.

8) Virginia Bar Materials on withdrawing lawyers (including non-compete agreements).

That’s what I’ve found, quickly, on the topic – I’d welcome any other information as well as personal advice from readers on what worked and what didn’t when leaving their law firms.

  • http://www.lawbizblog.com/buying-selling-a-practice-206-leaving-a-law-firm.html LawBiz Blog

    Leaving a law firm?

    In the process of buying a law firm, some lawyers do so in the context of leaving their present firm. There are caveats or ethical considerations, both from the perspective of morality and rules of professional conduct. See a collection…

  • http://www.lawbizblog.com/buying-selling-a-practice-206-leaving-a-law-firm.html LawBiz Blog

    Leaving a law firm?

    In the process of buying a law firm, some lawyers do so in the context of leaving their present firm. There are caveats or ethical considerations, both from the perspective of morality and rules of professional conduct. See a collection…

  • http://www.riskybiz.com Suzanne Rose

    The applicable model rules for this issue are 1.4, 1.16(d), 7.1, 7.3. Look at ABA Opinion 99-414. Consult your state rules.
    Both the departing lawyer and the firm have an obligation to act in the clients’ best interests when a lawyer leaves a law firm. Ethically, the sooner the lawyer notifies his clients of his departure, the better. However, the departing lawyer should not violate his fiduciary duty to(or burn bridges with) his firm (you can’t disparage your firm, use proprietary information to contact your or potential clients or otherwise engage in deceit, dishonesty or mis-representation.)
    Once the firm is notified, the departing lawyer and the firm should identify the clients for which the departing lawyer is responsible for generating and on which he/she has billing responsibility.
    It is preferable that a joint letter go out to the clients giving them notice of the lawyer’s departure and explaining their options with respect to continuing their representation with the firm, going with the attorney or seeking other representation altogether. Look at Model Rules 1.16.
    If a joint letter isn’t possible, then the departing attorney should send the notification letter.
    Look at Rule 7.3. Clients notified are those clients “whose active matters the lawyer had direct responsibility.” The departing lawyer cannot communicate with clients of the firm with whom he/she doesn’t have a prior professional or family relationship.

  • http://www.riskybiz.com Suzanne Rose

    The applicable model rules for this issue are 1.4, 1.16(d), 7.1, 7.3. Look at ABA Opinion 99-414. Consult your state rules.
    Both the departing lawyer and the firm have an obligation to act in the clients’ best interests when a lawyer leaves a law firm. Ethically, the sooner the lawyer notifies his clients of his departure, the better. However, the departing lawyer should not violate his fiduciary duty to(or burn bridges with) his firm (you can’t disparage your firm, use proprietary information to contact your or potential clients or otherwise engage in deceit, dishonesty or mis-representation.)
    Once the firm is notified, the departing lawyer and the firm should identify the clients for which the departing lawyer is responsible for generating and on which he/she has billing responsibility.
    It is preferable that a joint letter go out to the clients giving them notice of the lawyer’s departure and explaining their options with respect to continuing their representation with the firm, going with the attorney or seeking other representation altogether. Look at Model Rules 1.16.
    If a joint letter isn’t possible, then the departing attorney should send the notification letter.
    Look at Rule 7.3. Clients notified are those clients “whose active matters the lawyer had direct responsibility.” The departing lawyer cannot communicate with clients of the firm with whom he/she doesn’t have a prior professional or family relationship.

  • http://suzanneroseconsulting.typepad.com/riskybiz/ Suzanne Rose

    Here’s my correct URL.

  • http://suzanneroseconsulting.typepad.com/riskybiz/ Suzanne Rose

    Here’s my correct URL.

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