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Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Suits And Noncompetes for Lawyers

This season, one of the big issues that came up in the show Suits was that a partner was thinking about leaving the firm. But no! You can't leave, the partners say. Why? Because the partners all signed agreements that they wouldn't compete with the firm or take clients with them.


Before I smacked my head on my desk, I double-checked. I knew that Florida lawyers aren't allowed to have noncompete agreements. But Pearson Hardman, or whatever they're called these days in the show, is in New York. Here's what New York law says about noncompetes for lawyers.

RULE 5.6:

Restrictions On Right To Practice

(a) A lawyer shall not participate in offering or making:

(1) a partnership, shareholder, operating, employment, or other similar type of agreement that restricts the right of a lawyer to practice after termination of the relationship, except an agreement concerning benefits upon retirement; or

(2) an agreement in which a restriction on a lawyer’s right to practice is part of the settlement of a client controversy.

(b) This Rule does not prohibit restrictions that may be included in the terms of the sale of a law practice pursuant to Rule 1.17.

Yep. Just as I thought. Lawyers in New York aren't allowed to have noncompetes either. Pretty clear. Took me about 5 minutes to find the rule. But the Suits writers are increasingly unwilling to do even the most basic research to make their show credible. My 14-year-old daughter still loves it, but I'm having a hard time with it this season.

Why can't lawyers have noncompetes? Because the attorney-client relationship is so personal, so special, that clients must absolutely be allowed to choose their lawyer, even if it means leaving a firm to follow a lawyer who moves to a different firm. This logic makes sense, but then why doesn't the same rule apply to doctors? I don't know anyone with whom I have a more personal relationship than my gynecologist, yet doctors frequently sign noncompetes. The patients are out of luck if they leave.

The law may be an ass, but writers who don't bother doing their research on even the most basic issues make an ass of their viewers and readers, as well as themselves. Losing 1.8 million potential viewers is surely a loss any show can't afford, and that's how many lawyer/viewers you stand to lose if you don't do your homework.


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