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Ethics Opinion

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May 31, 1989


    A lawyer who has changed firms may represent an adversary of a client of the lawyer's former firm in connection with a matter handled by the former firm, if the lawyer did not acquire any confidential or secret information about the client of the former firm or the matter at issue while working for the former firm.

    References: MRPC 1.10.


A lawyer was previously employed at a law firm during the firm's representation of a client in procuring a patent, but the lawyer did not meet the client, did not work on the client's case, and knew nothing of the client's business. The law firm subsequently dissolved, and the lawyer formed a new law firm.

The lawyer has now been asked to defend a new client in a case charging infringement of the patent obtained by the dissolved firm for the firm's former client. The lawyer asks whether the lawyer and the new firm are precluded from defending the new client in the patent infringement suit.

MRPC 1.10(b) states:

    "When a lawyer becomes associated with a firm, the firm may not knowingly represent a person in the same or a substantially related matter in which that lawyer, or a firm with which the lawyer was associated, had previously represented a client whose interests are materially adverse to that person and about whom the lawyer had acquired information protected by Rules 1.6 and 1.9(b) that is material to the matter, unless:

      "(1) the disqualified lawyer is screened from any participation in the matter and is apportioned no part of the fee, and

      "(2) written notice is promptly given to the appropriate tribunal to enable it to ascertain compliance with the provisions of this rule."

In this case, the moving lawyer had no information of the sort governed by MRPC 1.6, and qualifications in MRPC 1.10(b)(1) and (2) do not apply. The commentary to MRPC 1.10 states, in part:

    ". . . if a lawyer while with one firm acquired no knowledge of information relating to a particular client of the firm, and that lawyer later joined another firm, neither the lawyer individually nor the second firm is disqualified from representing another client in the same or related matter even though the interests of the two clients conflict."

Not only is the new firm not prohibited from defending the new client, but the moving lawyer is also not precluded from the representation.



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