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RPC 200

January 13, 1995

Contacts with Clients after a Lawyer Leaves a Firm

 

Opinion rules that the lawyers remaining with a firm may contact by phone or in person clients whose legal matters were handled exclusively by a lawyer who has left the firm.

 

Inquiry #1:

 

ABC Law Firm has several offices across the state. For many years, Attorney D was the sole attorney present in ABC Law Firm's satellite office in Little City. While he worked for ABC Law Firm, the clients for whose matters Attorney D was responsible were almost exclusively residents of Little City. These clients were not referred to Attorney D by other members of ABC Law Firm nor did the other members of ABC Law Firm assist with the representation of these clients.

 

Attorney D recently resigned from ABC Law Firm in order to set up his own law practice. He would like to telephone or go to see the clients that he was representing at the time of his departure from ABC Law Firm in order to inform these clients that he is no longer with the firm and to advise each client of the client's options with regard to the continuation of the client's representation. May Attorney D contact these clients for this purpose?

 

Opinion #1:

 

Yes, Attorney D may personally contact, telephone or write to the clients for whose work he was responsible at the time of his departure from the firm. Together with the lawyers remaining with ABC Law Firm, Attorney D has an obligation to ensure that the representation of these clients continues despite his departure from the firm. RPC 48. Notice, either written or in-person, should be given to each such client informing the client of Attorney D's departure from the firm and advising the client of the right freely to choose counsel. Rule 6(b) of the Rules of Professional Conduct. Specifically, the client should be advised that he or she has the option of retaining Attorney D as his or her lawyer, requesting that another lawyer with ABC Law Firm take over the representation, or engaging a lawyer from another firm. The notice should also advise the client that he or she will need to instruct ABC Law Firm with regard to the disposition of the client's file if the client chooses to move his or her representation to another law firm. Rule 2.8(a)(2).

 

The preferred method of advising clients of the departure of a lawyer or lawyers from a law firm is by the sending of a notice upon which the remaining and departing lawyers agree and which clearly informs the clients of their right freely to choose counsel. See RPC 48.

 

Inquiry #2:

 

May Attorney D call or personally visit clients for whose work he was responsible while he was a lawyer with ABC Law Firm but whose representation was complete at the time of his departure from the firm if the primary purpose of his contact with these former clients is to solicit employment?

 

Opinion #2:

 

Yes. Rule 2.4(a) only prohibits in-person or live telephone contact to solicit professional employment from a prospective client if the lawyer has no family or prior professional relationship with the prospective client. A "prior professional relationship"means "that the subject attorney actually was involved in a personal attorney-client relationship with the prospective client." RPC 98. Such communication should be in compliance with Rule 2.4(b) which prohibits solicitation by written, recorded or in-person communications even when not otherwise prohibited by Rule 2.4(a) if the client has made known to the lawyer a desire not to be solicited by the lawyer or the solicitation involves coercion, duress, harassment, etc.

 

Inquiry #3:

 

May the other lawyers in ABC Law Firm telephone or visit the clients whose legal matters were being handled by Attorney D at the time of his departure in order to advise the clients of Attorney D's departure and to discuss their representation?

 

Opinion #3:

 

Yes, the firm may designate a member of the firm who will be responsible for notifying the clients of the departure of Attorney D and advising them of the right freely to choose counsel as described in opinion #1 above.

 

Such verbal or written contact with these clients is not improper solicitation of prospective clients in violation of Rule 2.4(a) or (c) because the clients are not prospective clients of the firm. With regard to such clients, the remaining lawyers with ABC Law Firm have an obligation to ensure that the representation of each client continues or is responsibly transferred to an outside lawyer chosen by the client. To the extent that RPC 48 or RPC 98 imply that a member of ABC Law Firm would be prohibited under these circumstances from contacting any of the clients whose matters were being handled by Attorney D at the time of his departure from the firm unless such a lawyer had a personal professional relationship with the client, RPC 48 and RPC 98 are overruled.

 

Inquiry #4:

 

If their purpose is to solicit professional employment, may the lawyers remaining with ABC Law Firm telephone or visit clients for whose work Attorney D was responsible prior to his departure from ABC Law Firm but whose representation had ended prior to the time that Attorney D left the firm?

 

Opinion #4:

 

Yes, provided such communication does not violate Rule 2.4(b). See opinion #3.

 

Inquiry #5:

 

May the lawyers remaining with ABC Law Firm use written, telephone or in-person communications to solicit professional employment from a client whose active file was being handled by Attorney D at the time of his departure if the client has notified the firm that he or she has obtained other legal counsel and no longer needs the services of the firm?

 

Opinion #5:

 

Yes, provided such communication does not violate Rule 2.4(b). See opinion #3.

 

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