Opinions of the General Counsel, 0321 ALBJ, Vol. 82 No. 2 Pg. 210 (June, 2021)

AuthorRoman A. Shaul
PositionVol. 82 2 Pg. 210


No. Vol. 82 No. 2 Pg. 210

Alabama Bar Lawyer

March, 2021

Roman A. Shaul

Alabama Lawyer Moving Firms

The last two decades have seen many lawyers and law firms on the move. More recently, the aging lawyer population and COVID-19 pandemic have continued to fuel the shifts and realignments of lawyers within the practice of law. The Office of General Counsel ("OGC") routinely advises lawyers and law firms of their ethical obligations when leaving an existing firm.This article will summarize a few of the areas we ask lawyers and firms to consider when changing scenery.

The Lawyer's Duty to Communicate

Under Rule 1.4, Alabama Rules of Professional Conduct, lawyers have a duty to timely communicate relevant material information to clients so that they can make an informed decision about what should be done in their case. The OGC takes the position that it is a material development when a lawyer decides to leave or join another firm. Although the client does not have to be informed simultaneously with the departing firm, t he client should be told within a reasonable time of the announcement.

The Client Controls the Choice of Lawyer

The OGC has reviewed a number of contracts, employment agreements, and settlement agreements over the years attempting to limit an individual lawyer's ability to take clients when leaving a firm. However, any restriction or agreement that seeks to limit, or has the effect of limiting, a client's choice of lawyers is ethically impermissible. Previous ethics opinions have made clear that neither a client nor her file"belong"to a firm or individual lawyer. See Formal Opinion 2010-02. It is possible that a lawyer or firm may have an interest in the client's file pursuant to a lien statute or equitable doctrine, i.e., quantum merit. In that event, the legal obligations of the parties are defined by the relevant caselaw and are beyond the OGC's ability to provide an opinion. As a best practice, the OGC recommends that prior to any formal separation, a joint communication be sent to clients as soon as reasonably possible. This communication should inform the client of the individual lawyer's departure date and their option to choose whether they want continued representation by the individual lawyer or firm. Any party wishing to place a lien on the file should convey this information to the client. Any attempt to place an invalid...

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