Employment attorney, Wayne N. Outten, with Douglas C. James, discusses the ethical obligations of law firms and departing partners and how they must handle this situation in a way that is consistent with the principle of client choice. This article originally appeared in Law Journal Newsletters’ Law Firm Partnership & Benefits Report, September 2004. For more information, visit www.ljnonline.com.
The answer is, nobody.
When a partner leaves a law firm, the parties have to allocate various partnership rights, assets, and other interests. They may allocate most of these interests in any way that they choose. They may not, however, allocate clients, perhaps the most valuable of partnership “assets.” The client alone decides whether to remain a client of the firm, to leave with the departing partner, or to choose another attorney. Law firms and departing partners have an ethical obligation to handle these situations in a way that is consistent with the principle of client choice.