Academic journal article Washington and Lee Law Review

Response to Loyalty in the Firm: A Statement of General Principles on the Duties of Partners Withdrawing from Law Firms

Academic journal article Washington and Lee Law Review

Response to Loyalty in the Firm: A Statement of General Principles on the Duties of Partners Withdrawing from Law Firms

Article excerpt

I. Introduction

I respectfully submit that no topic is more volatile and important to partners and to the modern-day law firm than the duties of partners withdrawing from law firms. I applaud the Washington and Lee School of Law and in particular, Professor Vestal, Professor Sundby, and Dean Sullivan for sponsoring such a visionary program as the Withdrawals and Expulsions from Law Firms Symposium. I also applaud the law students that participated in this symposium. I strongly believe that establishing programs that mentor law students on the legal and ethical issues that arise while practicing is an obligation of both the law schools and of the profession. We need more programs like this one so as to expose law students to the human side of law firm practice.

An interesting thing happened to me between the time I committed to be a participant in the symposium and my appearance at Washington and Lee I became a withdrawing partner. I could not think of a better way to prepare to comment on the presentation of my esteemed colleague, Robert Hillman. I decided that I had to experience firsthand that which I had been litigating, writing, advising, and lecturing about in order to truly do justice to Professor Hillman. I decided actually to live through the experience of withdrawing from a law firm and to apply the principles set forth in Professor Hillman's presentation. No matter who you are, change is one of the most difficult things that any human being can go through, and I am now at the top of the list. My change took place in March of 1998. I say this because in order to truly comprehend the multifaceted framework that Professor Hillman outlined, we must never lose sight of the fact that the person or persons for whom these principles and duties are established are going through a psychologicallycharged life experience. This is true regardless of their stature within the profession or their status within the law firm from which they are withdrawing. Furthermore, one cannot truly predict how one's colleagues at the firm will react to an event that can properly be characterized as one of abandonment and rejection.

I left Morrison Cohen Singer & Weinstein, LLP, the law firm that I helped found fourteen years ago, to join Greenberg Traurig Hoffman Lipoff Rosen & Quentel, one of the fastest growing national law firms. Greenberg Traurig solicited me through a legal recruiter. I left with clients and with matters pending in various jurisdictions. I withdrew pursuant to a written partnership agreement that I helped draft and that contained a sixty-day notice provision. I immediately resigned as a member of the firm's Executive Committee and as co-head of the firm's Litigation Department. I took client files and staff with me, and I continue to work on major matters for clients that I actively solicited while at my prior firm.

The legal profession has changed drastically in the past decade. I call this the age of attorney mobility. With so many lawyers moving laterally and with law firms operating more and more like big businesses that are ever mindful of the bottom line and of the generation of profits, it was inevitable that our profession would rely more and more upon building from without by bringing in lateral partners or by merging practices to provide growth and to increase profitability. During the current decade, the increasing number of mergers and dissolutions of law firms, the opening of more branch offices by the national firms, and the growing competition for business have led to record numbers of lawyers leaving firms, both voluntarily and involuntarily. This rush of activity indicated to me that more and more law firms are expanding in order to take advantage of the strong legal economy. I am happy to report that these are good times for the legal profession. I believe that in this age of mobility with its grass-is-greener mentality, it is more important than ever for partners and their law firms to understand the legal and ethical issues raised by partner departures and withdrawals. …

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