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Legal Ethics

How do you notify clients when firms dissolve and lawyers leave? Proposed ethics rule takes this on

Posted Dec 11, 2013 6:45 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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The Virginia State Bar is proposing a new ethics rule that governs client contacts when lawyers leave their firms or a firm dissolves.

Georgetown University law professor Michael Frisch wrote about proposed Rule 8.5 (PDF) at the Legal Profession Blog and told Bloomberg News the issue has concerned lawyers for years. The proposal is based on a Florida ethics rule.

The proposed Virginia rule says a lawyer who is leaving a firm may not notify a firm client unilaterally about the departure, nor may other members of the firm do so, unless the parties are unable to reach an agreement on a joint communication about notice. Nor may lawyers in a dissolving law firm unilaterally contact clients unless they are unable to agree on the method for notice.

When the lawyers can’t agree on notification, their unilateral client contact can not contain false or misleading statements, and it would have to outline clients’ options for representation, according to the proposal.

"The rule is trying to give notice to clients in a reasonable fashion," Frisch told Bloomberg. "It's also trying to lower the possibility of what happens a lot in real life—when departing lawyers leave, one side often tries to badmouth the other to get the client's business."

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