Lawyer Selling Practice Can Continue to Practice in Order to Assist Transition, New ABA Opinion Says

A lawyer who sells all or part of his law practice is not barred from continuing to practice law in order to facilitate and assist with the transition, according to a recently released American Bar Association Ethics Opinion.

Addressing ABA Model Rule 1.17’s requirement that the seller of a practice or practice area must cease to engage in the private practice of law, or in the area of practice that has been sold, in the relevant geographic area or jurisdiction, Formal Opinion 468 clarifies that seller can continue to practice for a reasonable period of time in order to assist the buyer with the transfer of cases.

The Opinion notes that “it is clear… that the selling lawyer may no longer accept new matters in the relevant practice or area of practice, and that prohibition should logically take effect immediately upon the closing of the sale…” However, “it seems reasonable to conclude that the transition of pending or active client matters from a selling lawyer or firm to a purchasing lawyer or firm need not be immediate or abrupt.”

As such, the Opinion concludes, “where appropriate, a selling lawyer or firm should be given [an] opportunity, for a reasonable period of time after the closing of the sale, to assist in the transition of active client matters.”

Additionally, the Opinion makes clear that clients should not bear any of the costs involving in transitioning their matters as part of the sale of the practice: “Neither the selling lawyer or law firm nor the purchasing lawyer or law firm may bill clients for time spent on transition activity that does not advance the representation or directly benefit the client.”

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