• July 25, 2018

Some time ago, we pointed out the obvious (at which we are particularly adept, btw):

When people get desperate, they sometimes do desperate things.

And our research suggests that this is true not only of human beings but also true of lawyers (who are almost indistinguishable from people, btw).

One land-mine that lies just inches off the lawyer’s righteous path, which lawyers deviate from at their peril, involves conflicts of interest.

Photo by Jonathan Rotondo-McCord

Imagine, for example, you perform legal work for Client Company A and Mr. Jones at Company A jumps ship to work in the same industry for Company B. How irresistible to pick up a new client (Company B) when Mr. Jones calls up, right? You know Client A’s business, you know Jones, you know Client B’s business! What a great bargain for Company B (and for you and your law firm)! Company A, on the other hand, might not take it so well…

It seems possible that the temptation was too great for Minnesota intellectual property lawyer, Mark Di Pietro and his former law firm, Pauly Devries Smith Deffner. Mr. Pietro did work for Adherent Labs (“Company A”). Mr. William Bunnelle, a part owner of Adherent (“Mr. Jones”), peeled off from Adherent and adhered to IFS Industries, Inc. (“Company B”).

(These companies are in the business of hot melt adhesives, btw.)

Mr. Pietro and his firm bonded to their new client, Company B, but, unfortunately, there were some residual strings clinging between Mr. Pietro and Company A (e.g., fiduciary duties that “Jones” owed “Client Company A”).

Now Mr. Pietro and Pauly Devries are stuck with grappling with the formidable Minneapolis litigation powerhouse of Anthony Ostlund Baer & Louwagie P.A. (AOSB&L), representing  Adherent Laboratories.

AOSB&L is not a fun adversary (as if there were ever such a thing).

The relevant practice pointer goes without saying. We will, however, note that transactional lawyers (that is, lawyers who do not spend their time in direct adversarial roles like litigators) are particularly susceptible to missing the risks posed by conflicts of interest. The lines between adversaries (and, even more, between merely potential (“reasonably foreseeable”) adversaries) can be blurrier for non-litigator lawyers than for litigators (who spend much of their time being (often unjustly) accused of conflicts of interest so it is (or should be) a more salient risk for them day to day).

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