NEW YORK (July 2, 2014) - In a unanimous ruling released today, the New York State Court of Appeals found that client matters are not "property" of a law firm, as argued in an amicus brief submitted by Holland & Knight and several other law firms. The case arose out of claims by the bankruptcy trustees of two failed law firms, who sought to recover profits earned from completing such “unfinished business” originally begun by partners of the dissolved firms who had moved on to new law firms. Holland & Knight also has represented clients involved in similar litigation.
Judge Susan Phillips Read wrote, "A law firm does not own a client or an engagement, and is only entitled to be paid for services actually rendered." The decision confirmed New York’s strong public policy favoring and protecting client choice in the attorney-client context.
Holland & Knight partner Barbra Parlin was quoted in the article that appeared in the New York Law Journal on this decision, stating that if the court had ruled the other way, lawyers leaving failing firms "would have something hanging over their heads" and pointing out that law firms hiring lawyers coming out of failed law firms would now face “less risk” that their profits would have to be disgorged.