Adding to this earlier compilation of resources on leaving a firm is this recent article, Practicing Ethics: Soliciting Clients, David Keyko, New York Lawyer (1/27/06). The
article summarizes various New York professional code provisions governing client solicitation, including when lawyers depart a firm.
You might think the applicable rules and procedures of [leaving a firm] would be (1) easy to find and (2) quite clear and well settled. If that is what you think, you will be surprised. The guidance on this matter varies widely from state to state, and applying rules in any given situation can be a difficult exercise.
I completely agree with Dennis on this one – I’ve had great difficulty
finding guidance on what lawyers can ethically do when they leave a
firm (Can they contact clients without firm authorization after
leaving? What if the client calls you – who tells your old firm? You
can’t take files, but can you copy them? My question list goes on and
But here’s one thing I’m sure of, but also worried about: that the rules won’t stay vague for long.
As more and more lawyers flee large firms,
the bars will move to refine ethics rules on departure of attorneys. And
because large firms are the ones that stand to lose out when lawyers leave to start their own more efficient and service-oriented practices, you can bet that the bars will adopt measures to restrict the ability
of departing lawyers to contact clients or take work product with them
when they leave. Sure, our code purports to defend the client’s
unfettered right to the attorney of his choice. But I’m guessing that
rule won’t remain as sacrosanct as more and more clients leave biglaw firms for smaller, less costly ones.