Clients: To Whom Do They Belong?

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The answer is, nobody.

When a partner leaves a law firm, the parties have to allocate various partnership rights, assets, and other interests. They may allocate most of these interests in any way that they choose. They may not, however, allocate clients, perhaps the most valuable of partnership “assets.” The client alone decides whether to remain a client of the firm, to leave with the departing partner, or to choose another attorney. Law firms and departing partners have an ethical obligation to handle these situations in a way that is consistent with the principle of client choice.