Inside Track: Ethical dilemmas: Does the firm I'm leaving own my clients?:

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  • Ethical dilemmas: Does the firm I'm leaving own my clients?

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    June 1, 2011 – Ethical dilemmas affect every lawyer’s practice. This series of questions and answers appears each month in InsideTrack. The answers, offered by State Bar’s ethics counsel org tpierce wisbar Timothy Pierce, are intended to provide guidance only and are not legal authority. Each situation will depend on the facts and circumstances involved.


    I’m an associate at a small firm, and I have been looking for other jobs for some time because of personality conflicts with two of the partners. I have just been offered a job at another firm that I intend to accept. However, because of the strained relationships at my current job, I don’t expect things to go smoothly when I give my notice. I have many clients who are quite happy with me and who I believe would follow me to my new firm. How should I go about making my departure?


    No one, neither the firm nor the departing lawyer, “owns” clients, and clients have a right to go with the departing lawyer, remain with the firm, or seek other counsel altogether. Both the departing lawyer and the firm have a duty under SCR 20:1.4 to notify those clients for whom the departing lawyer is primarily responsible of the lawyer’s departure. The clients should be informed as well, preferably in a joint letter from the departing lawyer and the firm, of the clients’ options to go with the departing lawyer, remain with the firm or seek other representation.

    References: State Bar of Wisconsin Formal Opinion E-97-2; and ABA Formal Ethics Opinion 99-414, Joint Philadelphia-Pennsylvania Bar Ethics Opinion 2007-300; Restatement (Third) of the Law Governing Lawyers, § 9.

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    For more information, visit the Ethics webpage on WisBar.

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