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Friendly Departure

Associates are generally employed on a salary with some bonus incentive. When he or she leaves, the associate generally does not have any ownership in the accounts receivables or other assets of the firm and is not entitled to any additional compensation unless it is something like unused vacation.

To determine whether to transfer files to a departing associate, abide by the Associate Employment Provisions or by the clients' directions. Clients have the ultimate right to decide who will handle their cases.

Within a law firm, partners and employees are bound by a departing lawyer’s duty to protect confidences and secrets. See Rule 1.6 and Rule 1.8(b) of the SCRPC.

The departing associate should confide in a partner he or she is close to or trusts to ease the transition.

The firm must inform departing associate's clients of the imminent departure in writing and explain that the clients have the right to choose which lawyers will continue with their cases. It is best if these letters are Joint Letters from the law firm and the departing associate. The letters must inform clients of time limitations and time frames and where they can pick up files. See Rule 1.4 SCRPC.

For all files to be kept by associates, if any, prepare accounts for work-in-progress and, with the accountant's assistance, prepare outstanding disbursements to date for all files for the departing associate to the date of termination.

If imminent deadlines or other crucial matters are coming up, discuss how to proceed with the client and the lawyer who will be assuming the file. Where appropriate, obtain continuances, extensions, or motions to substitute counsel and notify client and opposing counsel.

Legal Aid (Judicare) cases are not transferrable. If the departing associate is the lawyer handling the Judicare case and the lawyer is not taking the case with him or her, contact legal aid, which will make a new referral.

Change letterhead and business cards.

Change signs if necessary.