Risk Update

Ethical Walls — Staff Screening, Former Employee Question

If you hire a former employee, you should screen them from any participation to prevent any issue of disqualification” —

  • “My firm is in the process of hiring a paralegal. I have interviewed someone who worked as a paralegal in a corporation that my firm is presently suing. She is not involved in the suit. She has not worked for that corporation for a period of time. If I hire her, do I have to take steps? Would there be conflict of interest problems?”
  • “The question is an interesting one. One would think the answer would be yes, but that is not necessarily so.”
  • “The first question to analyze is whether or not the hiring firm can even talk to her. Under Rule of Professional Conduct 4.2, one can’t talk to someone represented by opposing counsel in litigation. The comment to Rule 4.2 makes clear that the rule applies not only to just individuals, but to corporations. For instance, an employee who works for a corporation who could bind the corporation or has significant information cannot be spoken to without permission of the corporate attorney. Comment 7 to Rule 4.2 suggests that would not apply if the person is a former employee of the corporation.”
  • “Having dealt with that issue, the question is if one hires the paralegal, is there a conflict, or should there be some kind of screening device? The rule at issue would be Rule 1.10 of the Rules of Professional Conduct, which talks about imputed disqualification… But a careful reading of Rule 1.10 demonstrates the rule does not talk about employees. It only talks about lawyers. That rule does allow for screening, but the way the rule is written shows the rule has nothing to do with when an employee of a firm moves to another firm when the firms were opposing each other.”
  • “Therefore, in reviewing this question, although Rule 1.10 in its main body does not talk about employees who are nonlawyers, Comment 4 does. If a firm hires a paralegal, they still should screen them from participation in that particular case. Rule 1.11 is different and involves the imputation of conflict with government officials since the comment specifically refers to employees.”
  • “Therefore, to answer the question, if one hires a former employee, depending on their involvement or lack of involvement in the litigation with the prior firm, perhaps the best practice would be to screen them from any participation just to prevent any issue of disqualification.”