Ethics Opinion

Opinion No. 76-31

December 1976

Summary: Where an attorney associated with one firm becomes associated with another firm, it is not necessarily improper for the second firm to represent interests adverse to clients of the laywer's former firm.

Facts: A lawyer who is employed as an associate of Firm A subsequently became employed by Firm B. In certain matters clients of Firm A are adverse to clients of Firm B. The lawyer inquires whether Firm B may represent its regular clients in matters adverse to clients of Firm A.
Discussion: As pointed out in Opinion 76-14, neither a lawyer nor his office may represent a client in a situation where there is a real danger that there could be an intentional or inadvertent use of a former client's confidences or secrets to his or her disadvantage, DR 5-105(A), DR 5-105(D). However, as that opinion noted, an attorney is not precluded from opposing former clients on matters unrelated to the subject matter of the former representation.
Of course, if the former client consents after full disclosure there is no prohibition against the second firm representing the adverse party. Opinion 76-14 concerns domestic relations; we understand this inquiry concerns commercial relations where it may be more likely that the former client would give such consent, particularly when the law firms involved are regular counsel for the clients.
We believe our opinion in this case is consistent with the opinion of the Advisory Committee on Professional Ethics of the Supreme Court of New Jersey, reported in 99 N.J.L.J. 841, 9/23/76.

Permission to publish granted by the Board of Delegates, 1976. As stated in the Rules of the Committee on Professional Ethics, this advice is that of a committee without official governmental status.