I wrote yesterday about a pending Fifth Circuit case about the “departing-lawyer rule” — determining which conflicts accompany a lawyer who leaves a large law firm.
That was fast. Today, the Fifth Circuit decided the case [PDF]. The Court looked for guidance both to the Texas Disciplinary Rules and the ABA Model Rules, concluding that neither created an “irrebuttable presumption” of conflict, as the lower court had concluded.
The Court found “uncontradicted evidence that Kennedy [the lawyer] was unaware of MindPrint’s existence—let alone [another lawyer in his firm’s] representation of MindPrint—during his affiliation with Jackson Walker.” In light of that evidence, the Court concluded that there was no need for disqualification.
The Fifth Circuit opinion also includes a brief “Choice of Law” section explaining the relationship between the Texas rules and the model rules. The Fifth Circuit first looked to the local rules of the Southern District of Texas (the district from which this appeal arose), which reference the Texas rules. The ABA Rules came in through the Fifth Circuit’s precedents, which direct it to also consider “the ethical rules announced by the national profession.”
The Fifth Circuit’s opinion should bring some clarity to the status of the rule in Texas’s federal courts.
The outcome also seems perfectly consistent with the proposed revisions to Rule 1.09 in the Texas Disciplinary Rules.