Wednesday, April 30, 2014
The Indiana Supreme Court has imposed a public reprimand of an attorney for making an agreement that limited the ability of associates to notify clients of their departure
In October 2006, Respondent hired an associate ("Associate") to work in his law firm. As a condition of employment, Associate signed a Confidentiality/Non-Disclosure/Separation Agreement ("the Separation Agreement"). If Associate left the firm, the Separation Agreement provided that only Respondent could notify clients that Associate was leaving, prohibited Associate from soliciting and notifying clients that he was leaving, and prohibited Associate from soliciting and contacting clients after he left. The Separation Agreement also included provisions for dividing fees if Associate left the firm that were structured to create a strong financial disincentive to prevent Associate from continuing to represent clients he had represented while employed by the firm.
In October 2012, Associate informed Respondent that he was leaving the firm. At the time, Associate had substantial responsibility in representing more than a dozen clients ("Associate's Clients"). Respondent insisted on enforcing the terms of the Separation Agreement regarding these clients. Respondent sent notices to Associate's Clients announcing Associate's departure. Not all of the notices explained that these clients could continue to be represented by Associate if they so chose, and the notices did not provide clients with Associate's contact information. The Separation Agreement provided that Respondent would provide Associate's Clients with his contact information only if they requested it, and Respondent provided the information to any such clients who specifically requested it.
Despite the provisions of the Separation Agreement, Associate sent out notices to Associate's Clients that explained that the client could choose to be represented by Respondent or by Associate, and that included Associate's contact information. In response, Respondent filed a complaint against Associate seeking to enforce the Separation Agreement. A settlement was reached through mediation.
Immediately after the Commission began its investigation in this matter, Respondent discontinued his use of the Separation Agreement...
The Court concludes that Respondent violated Indiana Professional Conduct Rule 5.6(a) by making an employment agreement that restricted the rights of a lawyer to practice after termination of the employment relationship. For Respondent's professional misconduct, the Court imposes a public reprimand.