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ForumNonConveniens

Etiquette re: leaving firm as associate?

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I'm a junior associate at a small firm in Western Canada. I'm planning on leaving my firm this summer and moving to a different province with my spouse to be closer to family. I've been with this firm since my articles (4 years). One of my main practice areas is civil litigation and I'm basically the only lawyer doing civil lit files at my firm these days.

What would be the proper etiquette for giving sufficient notice of my departure, and smoothly transitioning my files? I don't want to sour any relationships. 

  • I was thinking of giving my firm three months' notice. This would give them time to find a litigation associate to replace me, take on the litigation files themselves, or refer the litigation matters out to another firm. Though I imagine providing this much notice could make my remaining months there quite awkward.
  • As a junior associate, am I primarily responsible for ensuring all my matters are properly referred out if necessary, or is the partnership as my employer responsible?
  • My firm pays my annual insurance and law society fees. Is it expected that an associate will reimburse these expenses to the firm on a pro-rated basis if they leave?

Bonus question: my spouse and I are planning on taking this opportunity to do some travelling while we are between employment. We'll be taking 3-4 months to travel internationally before starting new jobs. Will such a gap in legal employment be a black mark against me? Should I try to line up new legal employment, or at least put out feelers in the city we're moving to, before I leave my current firm?

Bonus bonus question: any advice when it comes to transitioning to practice in a new province? Is there a steep learning curve, or are legal skills and knowledge generally transferable? I'm hoping to get hired on with another small firm doing "main street" type law. Interested in hearing from anyone who has made the jump to another province before.

Thank you for any insight you have!

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I'm also a junior but have had many friends move from one firm the another all these years, but just my 2 cents:

1. Legally you're only required to give as much notice as your contract/law requires, but the fact that you care enough for your firm to find your replacement will be appreciated by the partners.

2. Clients engage the firm, not you.  As associate you work under supervision of a partner, so no, you're not the one responsible for transitioning the case files/clients, but the firm (i.e. the partners collectively).  But you are still held to your reasonable care as solicitor, to ensure you fulfill your duty as lawyer to client and fiduciary to your firm.  So I think to fulfill that duty you should be writing up case notes on each file to ensure your successor reading your notes will know what to do as next step.  To go above and beyond will be to tell your client that you're leaving soon and if you have any questions in future please call XXX (or, if you're moving to another firm in same jurisdiction you can always tell them... to hint that your client is free to join you -- but in a tactful way without being sued by your old firm for stealing clients).

3. I think the norm is under the contract the firm will pay for your licence fees etc. but I have heard of these horrible bosses who will ask their associates to pay/reimburse, etc.  But those are the exceptions.

4. I don't think a gap will necessarily be against you but many of my friends have secured offers first, then tell their new firms they will begin in a later date (due to whatever reason) or alternatively, clear out your annual leave before your departure date?

5. Sorry can't help on your last question.

Not intended for any legal advice but I've seen many worse scenarios so don't worry...

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About fees and insurance, in my province firms often pay these in installments monthly or quarterly. If the same applies where you are, repayment may be moot then as your employer would just stop making payments after you're no longer working for them.

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On 3/5/2020 at 12:00 AM, Ruthless4Life said:

2. Clients engage the firm, not you.  As associate you work under supervision of a partner, so no, you're not the one responsible for transitioning the case files/clients, but the firm (i.e. the partners collectively).  But you are still held to your reasonable care as solicitor, to ensure you fulfill your duty as lawyer to client and fiduciary to your firm.  So I think to fulfill that duty you should be writing up case notes on each file to ensure your successor reading your notes will know what to do as next step.  To go above and beyond will be to tell your client that you're leaving soon and if you have any questions in future please call XXX (or, if you're moving to another firm in same jurisdiction you can always tell them... to hint that your client is free to join you -- but in a tactful way without being sued by your old firm for stealing clients).

 

I don't think that's right.  The client retains both the firm and the lawyer.

If @ForumNonConveniens were going to a competing firm, the practice is that clients must be sent a letter from both the lawyer and the firm, explaining that the client is free to either stay with the firm, or go with the lawyer.

In this case though the OP is leaving the jurisdiction, and the firm doesn't have anyone to cover off the new files, I believe the lawyer has to inform the client that they will no longer be able to act and then get off of record on all open litigation.  Here in particular - it is the lawyer's name on record, not the firm.

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On 3/5/2020 at 1:33 AM, ForumNonConveniens said:
  • As a junior associate, am I primarily responsible for ensuring all my matters are properly referred out if necessary, or is the partnership as my employer responsible?

https://lso.ca/about-lso/legislation-rules/rules-of-professional-conduct/chapter-3#ch3_sec7-7-A

Leaving a Law Firm

3.7-7A(1) In this subrule

(a) “affected client” means a client for whom the law firm has a relevant matter:

(b) “relevant matter” means a current matter for which the lawyer who is leaving the law firm has conduct or substantial responsibility;

(c) “remaining lawyers” means the lawyers who have, or are intended by the law firm to have, conduct of a relevant matter and the lawyers in the law firm who have direct and indirect management responsibility in respect of the practice of the lawyer who is leaving the law firm.

(2) When a lawyer leaves a law firm to practice elsewhere, the lawyer and the remaining lawyers shall

(a) ensure that affected clients are given reasonable notice that the lawyer is departing and are advised of their options for retaining counsel; and

(b) take reasonable steps to obtain the instructions of each affected client as to whom they will retain to act in relevant matters.

(3) The obligations in Rules 3.7-7A(2)(a) and (b) also apply to the departure of a paralegal from a law firm to practice elsewhere. 

Commentary

[1] When a lawyer leaves a law firm to practise elsewhere, it may result in the termination of the lawyer-client relationship between that lawyer and a client.

[2] The client’s interests are paramount.  Clients should be free to decide whom to retain as counsel without undue influence or pressure by either the lawyer or the firm.  The client should be provided with sufficient information by the lawyer and the remaining lawyers to make an informed decision about whether to continue with the departing lawyer, remain with the firm where that is possible, or retain new counsel.

[3] The lawyer and the remaining lawyers should cooperate to ensure that the client receives the necessary information on the available options.  While it is preferable to prepare a joint notification setting forth such information, factors to consider in determining who should provide it to the client include the extent of the lawyer’s work for the client, the client’s relationship with other lawyers in the law firm and access to client contact information.  In the absence of agreement between the departing lawyer and the remaining lawyers as to who will notify the clients, both the departing lawyer and the remaining lawyers should provide notification.

[4] If a client contacts a law firm to request a departed lawyer’s contact information, the remaining lawyers should provide the professional contact information where reasonably possible. 

[5] Where a client decides to remain with the departing lawyer, the instructions referred to in the rule should include written authorizations for the transfer of files and client property.  In all cases, the situation should be managed in a way that minimizes expense and avoids prejudice to the client. 

[6] In advance of providing notice to clients of his or her intended departure the lawyer should provide such notice to the firm as is reasonable in the circumstances.

[7] When a client chooses to remain with the firm, the firm should consider whether it is reasonable in the circumstances to charge the client for time expended by another firm member to become familiar with the file.

[8] The principles outlined in this rule and commentary will apply to the dissolution of a law firm.  When a law firm is dissolved the lawyer-client relationship may end with one or more of the lawyers involved in the retainer.  The client should be notified of the dissolution and provided with sufficient information to decide who to retain as counsel.  The lawyers who are no longer retained by the client should try to minimize expense and avoid prejudice to the client.

[9] See also rules 3.7-8 to 3.7-10 and related commentary regarding enforcement of a solicitor’s lien and the duties of former and successor counsel. 

[10] Lawyers are reminded that Rules 3.08(13.1) and (13.2) of the Paralegal Rules of Conduct and paragraphs 18-25 of  Paralegal Guideline 11 describe similar obligations for paralegals.  

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On 3/6/2020 at 3:30 PM, realpseudonym said:

https://lso.ca/about-lso/legislation-rules/rules-of-professional-conduct/chapter-3#ch3_sec7-7-A

Leaving a Law Firm

3.7-7A(1) In this subrule

(a) “affected client” means a client for whom the law firm has a relevant matter:

(b) “relevant matter” means a current matter for which the lawyer who is leaving the law firm has conduct or substantial responsibility;

(c) “remaining lawyers” means the lawyers who have, or are intended by the law firm to have, conduct of a relevant matter and the lawyers in the law firm who have direct and indirect management responsibility in respect of the practice of the lawyer who is leaving the law firm.

(2) When a lawyer leaves a law firm to practice elsewhere, the lawyer and the remaining lawyers shall

(a) ensure that affected clients are given reasonable notice that the lawyer is departing and are advised of their options for retaining counsel; and

(b) take reasonable steps to obtain the instructions of each affected client as to whom they will retain to act in relevant matters.

(3) The obligations in Rules 3.7-7A(2)(a) and (b) also apply to the departure of a paralegal from a law firm to practice elsewhere. 

Commentary

[1] When a lawyer leaves a law firm to practise elsewhere, it may result in the termination of the lawyer-client relationship between that lawyer and a client.

[2] The client’s interests are paramount.  Clients should be free to decide whom to retain as counsel without undue influence or pressure by either the lawyer or the firm.  The client should be provided with sufficient information by the lawyer and the remaining lawyers to make an informed decision about whether to continue with the departing lawyer, remain with the firm where that is possible, or retain new counsel.

[3] The lawyer and the remaining lawyers should cooperate to ensure that the client receives the necessary information on the available options.  While it is preferable to prepare a joint notification setting forth such information, factors to consider in determining who should provide it to the client include the extent of the lawyer’s work for the client, the client’s relationship with other lawyers in the law firm and access to client contact information.  In the absence of agreement between the departing lawyer and the remaining lawyers as to who will notify the clients, both the departing lawyer and the remaining lawyers should provide notification.

[4] If a client contacts a law firm to request a departed lawyer’s contact information, the remaining lawyers should provide the professional contact information where reasonably possible. 

[5] Where a client decides to remain with the departing lawyer, the instructions referred to in the rule should include written authorizations for the transfer of files and client property.  In all cases, the situation should be managed in a way that minimizes expense and avoids prejudice to the client. 

[6] In advance of providing notice to clients of his or her intended departure the lawyer should provide such notice to the firm as is reasonable in the circumstances.

[7] When a client chooses to remain with the firm, the firm should consider whether it is reasonable in the circumstances to charge the client for time expended by another firm member to become familiar with the file.

[8] The principles outlined in this rule and commentary will apply to the dissolution of a law firm.  When a law firm is dissolved the lawyer-client relationship may end with one or more of the lawyers involved in the retainer.  The client should be notified of the dissolution and provided with sufficient information to decide who to retain as counsel.  The lawyers who are no longer retained by the client should try to minimize expense and avoid prejudice to the client.

[9] See also rules 3.7-8 to 3.7-10 and related commentary regarding enforcement of a solicitor’s lien and the duties of former and successor counsel. 

[10] Lawyers are reminded that Rules 3.08(13.1) and (13.2) of the Paralegal Rules of Conduct and paragraphs 18-25 of  Paralegal Guideline 11 describe similar obligations for paralegals.  

Wrong jurisdiction

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1 hour ago, WannaBeLaw99 said:

Wrong jurisdiction

We have an equivalent in Alberta, if that's where OP works... 

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1 hour ago, WannaBeLaw99 said:

Wrong jurisdiction

Almost every jurisdiction has similar rules. Provincial rules tend to hew to the FLSC Model Code of Professional Conduct. BC might be different. 

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