Monday, April 14, 2008

Fla. Law Firm Accuses Ex-Associate of Stealing Clients

The West Palm Beach, Fla., law firm of Rosenthal & Levy is suing a former associate and his new law firm, claiming he is trying to steal clients.

Rosenthal & Levy filed the suit in Palm Beach Circuit Court against former associate Andrew Frisch and the Orlando, Fla.-based firm Morgan & Morgan, which Frisch joined in November. Frisch works in Morgan's Davie, Fla., office.

West Palm Beach attorney G. Michael Keenan, who is representing Rosenthal & Levy, said Dec. 26 that the other side has initiated settlement discussions, and he said the case may be settled out of court.

The suit seeks an injunction to prohibit Frisch from soliciting clients from Rosenthal & Levy, which specializes in personal injury, workers compensation and other employment-related cases.

The eight-count complaint filed Dec. 14 seeks damages for lost profits and asks for punitive damages. The suit alleges breach of contract, breach of fiduciary duty, unfair competition, misappropriation of trade secrets, civil conspiracy and other counts.

Reached by telephone Dec. 17, Frisch denied doing anything wrong. He said he "followed in every way" the Florida Bar's packet of ethical guidelines for attorneys who switch firms "to a T" when he left in November.

Frisch said he had not heard about the Rosenthal & Levy suit against him until he received the call seeking comment.

Frisch was a Rosenthal & Levy employee from April 21, 2006, to Nov. 21, 2007, according to the suit. Before leaving, the suit claimed, "Frisch contacted clients of Rosenthal and began the process of soliciting Rosenthal's clients to follow him to his new place of employment."

Frisch sent letters notifying Rosenthal & Levy clients he was changing firms and solicited them to switch their business to his new firm -- all without the knowledge of Rosenthal & Levy and in violation of Bar rules, the suit claimed.

The Florida Bar rules for lawyers switching firms state, "Absent a specific agreement otherwise, a lawyer who is leaving a law firm shall not unilaterally contact those clients of the law firm for purposes of notifying them about the anticipated departure or to solicit representation of the clients unless the lawyer has approached an authorized representative of the law firm and attempted to negotiate a joint communication to the clients concerning the lawyer leaving the firm and bona fide negotiations have been successful."

The suit claimed Frisch did not draft a joint letter with Rosenthal & Levy, and Rosenthal & Levy was not aware Frisch was contacting clients in hopes of luring their business to his new firm.

The alleged solicitation continued after Frisch joined Morgan & Morgan, targeting cases "in which either liability could be easily proven and/or damages were significant," the complaint said.

Frisch went after "the most desirous of Rosenthal's employment and labor clients in an attempt to have those clients transfer their cases to Frisch and Morgan," the suit said.

The suit said Frisch's "illegal" and "unethical" actions "confused Rosenthal's clients and left them with the impression that Rosenthal either did not wish to continue representing the clients or that Rosenthal did not have the expertise to continue said representation."

Solicitation letters sent by Frisch on his new firm's letterhead "caused Rosenthal's clients confusion, anxiety and frustration" as well as "fear that their cases will be abandoned, that Rosenthal had closed its offices and that it would cost the clients more money to have their cases prosecuted," the suit said.

Frisch's primary motivation "was for financial profit and gain," the suit said.

Morgan & Morgan had no prior business dealings with the clients of Rosenthal & Levy prior to Frisch's mailing, the suit said.

"We are in the process" of determining if Frisch's letters got any clients to switch their business to Morgan & Morgan, Keenan said. He claimed the client list and their addresses were proprietary information of Rosenthal & Levy.