Whenever you are involved in a legal matter, it is only through the full disclosure of all of the information that is relevant to your case that you can ensure the best representation. That means placing a good deal of trust in the fact that your attorney will fulfill his or her obligation to keep such information confidential. Said information will often be documented in a case file that remains with your attorney's practice. Yet what happens if and when your attorney decides to sell the practice?
Over time, a legal practice will inevitably acquire significant non-tangible assets (referred to by the American Bar Association as "goodwill"). The owners of the practice are indeed allowed to include this goodwill in a sale to another attorney or firm. Your concerns that your case file might be included in that goodwill are understandable. Fortunately, according to the ABA's Model Rules of Professional Conduct, your now former attorney still a responsibility to you to ensure your information is protected.
You (and all of his or her former clients) must be notified (in writing) of the attorney's intention to sale the practice. That notice must include the following information:
- The details of the sale
- Instructions detailing your right to have your case file transferred to the attorney buying the practice or to take possession of it yourself
- A statement saying that if you do not express any objections within 90 days of receiving the notice, it will be assumed that you consent to transfer your file to the new attorney
Another important bit of information to know is that if your attorney decides to return to practicing law, he or she is prohibited from practicing in the same discipline he or she did previously (thus further protecting your confidentiality).