These summaries were prepared by McGuireWoods LLP lawyer Thomas E. Spahn. They are based on the letter opinions issued by the Virginia State Bar. Any editorial comments reflect Mr. Spahn's current personal views, and not the opinions of the Virginia State Bar, McGuireWoods or its clients. 
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5-Lawyers Changing Jobs

12-Withdrawing Lawyers (Including Non-Compete Issues)

Law firms cannot restrict withdrawing lawyers from unilaterally notifying clients of their withdrawal "once the law firm has been notified or otherwise learns of the lawyer's intended departure." Law firms and withdrawing lawyers "should attempt to agree on a joint communication" to clients with whom the lawyer "has had significant contact" – which "would include a client identifying the departing lawyer, by name, as one of the attorneys representing the client," in contrast to a lawyer who "prepared one research memo on a client matter for another attorney in the firm but never spoke with the client or discussed legal issues with the client." If they cannot "promptly agree on the terms of a joint letter," the law firm "cannot prohibit the departing lawyer from soliciting firm clients." All unilateral or joint communications to clients must give them the choice of "remaining with the firm, going with the departing lawyer, or choosing another attorney." Both law firms and withdrawing lawyers must take reasonable steps to "coordinate to assure that all electronic and paper records for client matters are organized and up to date" – so the client will be protected if it goes with the withdrawing lawyer, stays with the firm or chooses some other law firm. Withdrawing lawyers must "return and/or delete all client confidential information in their possession," unless the client goes with the withdrawing lawyer or the information is necessary for conflicts clearance. Law firms may impose "a reasonable notification period for withdrawing lawyers," but may not impose a notification period that "would affect a client's choice of counsel or serve as a financial disincentive to a competitive departure." For instance, lawyers may not be held to comply with "a pre-established notice period" if all of the clients' files are updated, and the lawyer either "has agreed to cooperate post-departure in final billing" or "does not seek to represent firm clients in the future." Such notification periods are the same as an improper financial disincentive "to a competitive departure," and are "problematic" when imposed only on withdrawing lawyers who plan to compete with the firm while routinely waived otherwise. Lawyers complying with a notification period should not be deprived of "adequate firm resources" needed to serve clients. After lawyers withdraw, law firms "should set automatic email responses and voicemail messages for the departed lawyer's email and telephones, to provide notice of the lawyer's departure, and offer an alternative contact at the firm for inquiries." A "supervising lawyer" should also review incoming emails, voicemails, etc. "in accordance with client direction and promptly forward communications to the departed lawyer for all clients continuing to be represented by that lawyer." Firms and lawyers complying with a notification period should also "discuss and clarify" how to treat new client matters that come in during that period.

Copyright 2000, Thomas E. Spahn