Under Rules 1.6; 1.9 and 1.16 of the New York Code of Professional Responsibility, a new Ethics Opinion No. 1195 was issued on June 11th, 2020 asserting that “A lawyer has no duty to represent clients who were clients of a former law firm and have not engaged the lawyer to represent them at a new firm, no matter whether the lawyer did work on behalf of those clients at the former firm.”
“The Rules explicitly state that the existence of an attorney-client relationship is a question of law, not ethics. Rules, Preamble ¶ 9. We do not issue opinions on legal questions, but we do not stray far from our charter in saying that an unaffiliated third party may not unilaterally impose such a relationship without the agreement of the lawyer and the client. Thus, unless clients of the former firm have agreed to retain the inquirer’s new firm, the inquirer’s duties to those onetime clients are limited to those any lawyer owes a former client. See ALI, Restatement of Law Governing Lawyers (Third) § 14(1) (Formation of a Client-Lawyer Relationship) (a lawyer-client relationship arises when “a person manifests to a lawyer the person’s intent that the lawyer provide legal services for the person; and either (a) the lawyer manifests to the person consent to do so; or (b) the lawyer fails to manifest lack of consent to do so, and the lawyer knows or reasonably should know that the person reasonably relies on the lawyer to provide the services).”
Therefore, it was found that “A lawyer owes no duty to represent clients of a former firm absent a client’s agreement and instead owes such persons only the duties all lawyers owe to former clients.”.