Legal Technology

Does litigation database belong to law firm or clients? Suit against ex-partners raises the issue

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A Boston law firm and six former partners are battling in court over rights to databases for the firm’s asbestos and toxic tort cases.

The Governo Law Firm and name partner David Governo contend in a lawsuit that the partners took proprietary databases that cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to build, report the Boston Globe and the Boston Business Journal. The former partners, who opened a firm called CMBG3 Law on Dec. 1, claim database information belongs to the firm’s clients, who were billed for work associated with the databases.

According to the Boston Globe, the suit is “being carefully watched by the city’s legal community, which anticipates it may establish case law on the legal and ethical parameters for leaving a law firm in the digital age.”

In a Jan. 11 decision, Judge Kenneth Salinger of Boston Superior Court refused to issue an injunction for the return of database material. Salinger said both sides presented evidence on whether the database belongs to the firm or its clients, but he was unable to decide the issue on the current record.

Salinger also said it was unclear what materials had been taken. He found that the former partners took a copy of the firm’s asbestos file management database, but the evidence presented so far didn’t establish whether other databases and electronic files had been taken.

According to Governo, the databases contain information about client billing rates, bankruptcy filings, client correspondence, literature on asbestos litigation, expert witness backgrounds and key court rulings.

Governo’s suit said the former partners had entered negotiations to buy the law firm before abruptly ending discussions in the fall. The databases were going to be included in the sale and are among the firm’s most valuable assets, according to the suit.

The suit alleges that, before leaving the firm, one of the departing partners asked an IT consultant to transfer copies of the databases to her computer. When the lawyers left, they took more than half of Governo’s business with them, the suit says.

The suit alleges misappropriation of trade secrets, interference with contractual relationships, and civil conspiracy.

Hat tip to @bobambrogi.

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