Legal Ethics

Law firm can read ex-partner's incoming email, opinion says, but must forward email about his cases

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A dispute over a law firm’s handling of email sent to the account of a former partner resulted in a legal ethics roadmap that may help others faced with the same situation.

The partner had no right to insist that the account simply be closed and set to send a bounce-back message to that effect, held the Philadelphia Bar Association Professional Guidance Committee in a Sept. 13 advisory opinion (PDF) that authorized the firm to read the incoming email.

However, any email that related to matters the partner took with him to his new firm must be forwarded by his old firm, Bloomberg BNA reports. The opinion also said replies to email senders had to provide the ex-partner’s new contact information.

Additionally, “the inquirer is reminded that considerations of substantive law may influence this analysis,” the opinion notes. “Although the Committee does not address those considerations here, relevant points to consider may include the firm’s partnership agreement, any sidebar agreements with [the ex-partner] concerning the latter’s withdrawal, and/or the firm’s written or customary employment practices.”

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