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Opinion 699

Question Presented

Through an employment agreement between a law firm and its lawyers:

  1. May the law firm impose a minimum departure notice period for lawyers who wish to depart the law firm?
  2. May the law firm prohibit a departing lawyer from accessing and copying client information and files?
  3. May the law firm prohibit a departing lawyer from notifying clients of the impending departure?
  4. May the law firm prevent a lawyer from soliciting the law firm’s clients after the lawyer has departed from the firm?

A lawyer employed by a law firm plans to leave the firm. When the lawyer joined the firm, the firm insisted on a written employment agreement, to which the lawyer agreed. That contract contained provisions (1) requiring that the lawyer give at least 90 days’ notice of departure; (2) prohibiting the lawyer, post-departure, from soliciting the firm’s clients; and (3) prohibiting the lawyer from retaining client information or files upon departure, absent written direction of the client.

When the lawyer informed the firm of the impending departure, the firm did not agree to the lawyer’s proposed departure announcement to clients whom the lawyer currently represents. Further, the firm directed the lawyer not to communicate with the firm’s clients about the lawyer’s departure. The firm refused to provide any written announcement to the lawyer’s clients about the lawyer’s impending departure.

The lawyer has given 30 days’ notice of departure and disagrees with the employment agreement’s 90-day minimum departure notice provision. The lawyer also plans to make copies of client files and retain client information regarding matters on which the lawyer has actively worked, including information relating to schedules and deadlines. Further, the lawyer disagrees that the firm may ethically prohibit the lawyer from soliciting clients of the firm after the lawyer has departed. The firm has invoked its employment agreement with the lawyer to prevent these actions.

Bluebook Citation

Tex. Comm. On Professional Ethics, Op. 699 (2024)