Though Fearnow v. Ridenour, Swenson, Cleer & Evans, 213 Ariz. 24 (2006) made it clear that ER 5.6 does not categorically prohibit all agreements imposing financial disincentives on a departing lawyer who continues to practice in competition with their previous firm, imposing a per-client fee on a departing associate directly interferes with client choice and is prohibited. This Opinion supersedes State Bar of Arizona Ethics Opinion 09-01.
A law firm may not employ associate lawyers using a contract that requires a departing associate to pay $3,500 to the law firm for each instance in which the departing associate continued to represent a law firm client. This requirement would violate the policy underlying ER 5.6 that puts the commercial interests of law firms secondary to the need to preserve client choice.
Superseded by EO-19-0006
A lawyer seeking to sell his or her solo law practice may disclose limited client-specific information to the prospective lawyer-buyer without client consent to the disclosure.
The selling lawyer must sell at least an entire legal area of practice throughout the geographic area or areas where that practice is being conducted. After the sale, the selling lawyer may be able to resume practicing law, depending on what part of the lawyer’s law practice was sold.
The selling lawyer may not seek through contractual provisions to avoid prohibitions in the Ethical Rules on his or her ability to practice law after the sale. Nonetheless, the parties may negotiate a covenant not to compete and/or a covenant not to solicit within the sale contract.
The selling lawyer may supplement his or her notice of sale to clients with additional information as long as the notice at least meets the requirements of ER 1.17.