A lawyer desiring to leave a firm with clients faces many professional responsibility issues further complicated by the often acrimonious relations that develop with the firm before and after departure. To accomplish a move with the best chance of avoiding nasty repercussions departing lawyers must understand their fiduciary obligation to the former firm, duties owed to clients, how to communicate with clients with regard to representation, the firm’s defensive options when a lawyer leaves taking clients, and the malpractice risk management considerations when leaving a firm.
Until KBA E-424 was issued Kentucky lawyers had little Kentucky authority for guidance on the ethical considerations in leaving a firm with clients. The opinion covers duties owed to current clients by the departing lawyer and firm, communications with current and former clients by the departing lawyer, and retention of client files. The opinion does not address how far a lawyer may go in planning to depart before telling the firm or give specific guidance on using firm information and procedures apparently because these issues are primarily a matter of law.
KBA E-424 provides much needed guidance for lawyer mobility in Kentucky. It is in the July 2005 issue of the KBA Bench & Bar and is a must read for the entire bar – you never know when it might be relevant to your circumstances. For more information on risk management and other issues related to leaving a firm not covered in KBA E-424 read the Bench & Bar article “Movin’ On Redux” available on our Web site.