Attorney Allegedly Violates Legal Ethics Terms After Leaving Firm

    Ethics ExpertThis case involves an attorney who left his firm after 18 years following a compensation dispute. Upon leaving, the attorney allegedly began poaching clients and employees away from his former firm. The firm filed suit against the ex-employee for these deceptive practices. The defendant attorney then counter-sued his former employer for racial discrimination, claiming that he was unjustly passed up for promotions and compensation increases. An expert was sought to discuss the ethics of an attorney poaching their former practice’s clients and associates.

    Question(s) For Expert Witness

    • 1. Please briefly describe your familiarity with the code of ethics and best practices that attorneys are held to when changing firms across the same legal discipline.
    • 2. Is it common for ex-employees to personally call clients to persuade them to join them at their new practice? Please explain.

    Expert Witness Response E-081024

    Generally, lawyers don’t own their clients. Clients are free to change lawyers at any time. However, lawyers are not allowed to solicit clients or interfere with an existing attorney-client contractual relationship. Lawyers are generally free to change law firms anytime they want – they just can’t solicit their former law firm clients. They can send out “tombstone” announcements of their new location/affiliation. Clients can then decide to follow their lawyer or not. When law firm partnerships split up, the usual practice is to send out a joint letter from the factions asking the client to decide which faction will handle the case going forward. Nothing prevents poaching of a lawyer as long as there is no quid pro quo for the lawyer to bring the firm’s clients along.

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