Departures from a law firm are complicated for any attorney, but for a partner the details can be quite intricate. Please note: First and foremost, the interests of your clients should be absolutely paramount. Consultation with existing ABA and state bar guidelines on firm transition is suggested.
Below you will find a list of important considerations for partners when changing firms. You will also find suggested practices for maintaining relationships, as well as obligations from a legal and moral perspective.
Before You Begin to Meet with New Firms
It’s important to review any existing employment agreement with your former firm to make sure you are in compliance with all provisions (pay particular attention to provisions regarding notice).
Practice discretion with your existing firm until you have consulted existing employment agreements and have cleared conflicts at your new firm (but also ensure that your actions are in compliance with existing ethical guidelines).
Take steps to ensure you are not releasing confidential client information to a third party. Translation: Do NOT release confidential client information to a firm during your interview process. (Examine ABA rules and rulings regarding this very grey area).
Once You Have an Offer in Hand
Ensure that all conflicts are cleared before notifying your existing firm.
Ensure that proper notice in compliance with existing employment/partnership agreements is given to the firm.
If transitioning to another state, attend to any waiver requirements. Depending on the jurisdiction, it may be prudent to wait until you have an offer to take this step as many state bars will begin calling references and could arouse suspicions. Coordinate bar fees with the new firm when the timing is appropriate.
Check professional rules of conduct to ensure compliance and appropriate timing before notifying clients of your departure.
Solidify any arrangements for support staff (secretaries, paralegals, associates) to relocate with you to the new firm (but again, check contractual and ethical compliance).
Once You Have Accepted an Offer
Some state bar rules require that firms send out a notice to their clients notifying them that a partner is leaving, when said partner is leaving, and informing them that the client has the right to choose which lawyer will handle his or her case. These letters should address how advanced fees will be handled and should also address how client files will be handled. These letters should include a place for the client to sign and return the letter. These letters can and most likely should be sent out jointly from the old firm and the departing partner. (Examine ABA models regarding this point).
Keep clients informed about the status of their cases and how the transition to the new firm will affect them.
Prepare memoranda to appropriate parties at the firm regarding the status of your current case load or transactions in progress.
When active files are being transferred to other attorneys at the old firm, extensive notes are required in detailing the status of matters and upcoming deadlines for filings. Where appropriate, obtain continuances, extensions, or motions to substitute counsel and notify clients and opposing counsel.
Attend to any matters not billed or collected.
Coordinate transitioning client files.
Check to ensure you are in compliance with your new malpractice insurance carrier’s requirements. One question to ask your new carrier, ”Do you insure prior acts?” Also examine whether you might need ”tail coverage.”
Inform courts, state agencies, or federal agencies where your matters are pending of new counsel arrangements and/or the address of the new firm.
Notify opposing counsel of any changes in counsel or counsel’s firm and address.
Advertise your new firm affiliation to clients, colleagues, and friends. Your new firm may have ideas on how to market this material, so it’s important to coordinate with the new firm. For materials sent to clients, tailor your notices to include information about how your new platform and firm can better serve their needs.
Send out a press release to legal and general press. Again, this will need to be coordinated with the new firm.
Work with your new firm on letterhead and business cards.
Determine how mail will be forwarded from the old firm to the new firm.
Inform local, state, and specialty bars about your change of affiliation.
One of the more complicated facets of leaving a firm involves preserving the relationships between fellow partners. It’s important to say goodbye to your colleagues in a manner that preserves the relationship. Friendly referrals can continue between partners even after the partners no longer share a firm name and office space.
Spend time personally thanking the support staff who worked with you at your old firm.
A fresh start could involve some introspection on ways to personally improve your performance. Solicit feedback from partners and associates at the old firm about ways you can improve your performance.