How CRM Can Help with Joiners & Leavers

In this article we will explore the ways in which modern CRM systems can provide very useful functionality to protect law firms’ interests when one of their lawyers either leaves – or joins. We will first look at the issues around ‘joiners’, but alas one must remember that every ‘joiner’ of one firm is probably also a ‘leaver’ of another, so the attempt to make a clear-cut distinction is somewhat academic.


The ethical and legal considerations of taking a list of contacts with you when you leave a law firm and move to another are fraught with difficulty. Among other factors there are GDPR issues, confidentiality issues, professional rules issues, contract of employment terms issues – and so on, and so on. It is – to say the least – a grey area.

In due deference to the spirit of the age; I decided to consult two ultra-modern Oracles for guidance on this point: you may have heard of them – ChatGPT and Google Bard.

Needlesstosay, they were both happy to opine at length on this topic, albeit with somewhat different slants on the issue – as well as being somewhat US-centric. Nevertheless, gentle reader, I thought you would find the results interesting…

One the one hand ChatGPT says:

When a lawyer leaves a law firm, the ownership and use of client contact information and other related data can be a complex legal and ethical issue, and the specifics can vary depending on several factors including the jurisdiction, the employment contract, and the firm’s policies. Here are some general principles to consider:

Client Confidentiality: Lawyers have a duty of confidentiality to their clients, and this duty survives the termination of the attorney-client relationship. This means that lawyers cannot disclose client information without the client’s informed consent.

Ownership of Client Files: The ownership of client files and contact information may vary depending on the firm’s policies and the terms of the lawyer’s employment contract. Some firms may consider client files and contact information to be the property of the firm, while others may allow lawyers to maintain their own client lists.

Non-Solicitation and Non-Compete Agreements: Some law firms may have non-solicitation and non-compete clauses in their employment contracts. These clauses may restrict a departing lawyer’s ability to take clients with them or compete with the firm for a certain period of time after leaving.

Client Consent: If a lawyer wishes to take client contact information with them when leaving a firm, they should seek the informed consent of each client to do so. Clients have the right to choose their legal representation, so if they want to follow their lawyer to their new practice, they can.

Ethical Obligations: Lawyers are also bound by ethical rules that govern the handling of client information and conflicts of interest. It’s essential for departing lawyers to ensure they comply with these ethical rules when transitioning clients to a new practice.

Client Choice: Ultimately, the client has the right to choose their legal representation. If a client wishes to continue working with a departing lawyer and provides their informed consent, they are generally free to do so.

Dispute Resolution: If there is a dispute over the ownership of client contact information or the solicitation of clients, it may need to be resolved through negotiation, arbitration, or, in some cases, litigation.

On the other hand, Google Bard says:

Whether a lawyer can take their contacts’ details with them when they leave a firm depends on the specific rules of the jurisdiction in which the lawyer practices. However, in general, lawyers are allowed to retain the names and contact information of clients for whom they worked while at the firm, but they cannot use this information to solicit clients without their consent.

For example, a lawyer who leaves a firm to start their own practice may contact their former clients to let them know that they have left the firm and to provide them with their new contact information. However, the lawyer cannot send these clients marketing materials or otherwise solicit them to represent them without their consent.

There are a few exceptions to this rule. For example, a lawyer may be able to contact former clients who have a “prior professional relationship” with them. This means that the lawyer has represented the client in the past and has developed a close personal relationship with them. Additionally, a lawyer may be able to contact former clients if they are doing so in order to comply with ethical rules or legal requirements.

For example, a lawyer may need to contact former clients in order to conduct a conflicts check when they join a new firm. Additionally, a lawyer may need to contact former clients in order to return their files or to provide them with information about the status of their cases.

However, somewhere between taking only paper details of those contacts you actually introduced to the firm, and hoovering up a CSV file of all the firm’s contact details, there is a moderate approach which is generally regarded as acceptable.

What you are probably never going to be able to take (legitimately) is a total history of all interactions with contacts, even your contacts. Furthermore, even though it should easily be possible by means of a suitable search to identity a subset of client contacts that a lawyer had originally brought to the firm – the firm has no obligation to make it easy for the lawyer to take the details by downloading it to Excel or CSV. If they do allow this then say thanks, and grab it, and run.

Otherwise, such a list would have to be input manually; but the enterprising lawyer may have kept their own personal client contact list in their own instance of Outlook or some other repository, in which case they can easily be imported into the new firm’s CRM system.

If they did not, then they could usefully spend their gardening leave typing the details from paper, business cards and/or memory, into Excel in order to impress their new bosses. Then, again, it’s a simple data import process.

Since the overriding principle is that it is the client who gets to decide who it wants as their lawyer, it is at least arguable, depending on a lawyers’ non-solicitation and non-compete terms, that it is reasonable for a lawyer, after joining the new firm, to send one email to all the clients they have worked for at the previous firms just to give them their new contact details. If the email stops at that, and does not actively seek to encourage solicitation, and if the contact then replies to that email (with appropriate data protection permissions) then the new firm will (if it has a good CRM system) be off and running with that new contact.

As the new lawyer starts to use the new firm’s system then any contact interactions, with both their previous existing contacts and their new contacts, will build up over time and the firm will be able to get a clear view of how much better, or not, the new lawyer’s relationship is with their existing client base than that of their current staff.



The big issue that CRM systems can help with here is ‘succession planning’.

When a lawyer retires from the firm there is always a danger that there will be leakage of business from their most close and personal contacts. Often a client will have a quite small number of legal advisers they feel particularly comfortable with having worked with them over a long period of time, sometimes starting at university or law school.  When one retires, there will be a natural, even unconscious, tendency of that client to transfer their affections to other lawyers with whom they also feel close. The firm must take active steps to stop that happening, by using the succession planning facilities of their CRM system.

The first step, say, two or three months before the retirement, is to use the system to identify those client contacts with whom your retiree has a particularly close relationship. These will be those with whom the retiree has a unique relationship, not very likely in this era; and those contacts for which your leaver scores very highly on the CRM system’s ‘relationship strength’ indicator, or whatever they call it.

A good rule of thumb is to earmark all contacts for whom your leaver has a uniquely high strength indicator, or who shares that distinction with one or two other lawyers.

The next step is to identify which of your other lawyers you want to ‘succeed’ the leaver as the firm’s ongoing key contact with that client. On some CRM systems they can be tagged as the relationship ‘successor’. In any event, the technique is them to slowly attach that proposed successor to as many leaver / contact interactions as is feasible. Such as emails, meetings, events etc – events is a particularly good one as at such an event the leaver can personally present the successor who can shake the client by the hand and have an introductory chat – still the best way to initiate a successful professional relationship.

I my view, whilst that first physical meeting is a key one, I would not overtly identify that you are presenting the client with the new primary firm contact at that point. Some clients may take the view that they will be the ones to decide that and that they do not want to be handled in that way. However, over the next few months, after they have met the new lawyer a few more times at events, and joined in on various office meetings, phone calls and emails and then you offer the proposed successor to the client contact they will (a) think it was their idea, and (b) think that it is the most natural thing in the world.

Bingo – job done.

When it comes to unforced leavers, especially those leaving to join a competitive practice, then all the issues identified in the previous Joiners section come up for consideration – only vice versa.

Your firm will certainly want to ensure that no-one is in a position to ‘hoover’ off all the firm’s contacts. This was actually only too easy some 25-30 years ago when several firms realised that this is exactly what some enterprising young, and not so young partners and lawyers had done. Nowadays, you can use CRM facilities to ensure that no user, without exceptionally high level of security access, can (a) create an unreasonably large contact list, or (b) export any list to any email, printer, removable media, network drive or anywhere it can be accessed remotely.

In this case, ‘unreasonably large’ is to be defined by the firm – it may mean:

  • a list including more than 20% of the firm’s contacts
  • a list including anyone not from the lawyer’s primary practice area
  • a list with more than 100 people
  • some combination of these criteria or more

Dealing with removable or network drives or other media or printing or emailing should be dealt with by standard Windows and/or CRM control mechanisms. However, there are potentially other ‘new tech’ and ‘old tech’ ways of getting this information through the ‘back door’.

A new tech method for those CRM systems that have bi-directional data integration with Microsoft Outlook if there is a way to copy contacts from one Outlook account to another i.e. from the firm’s Outlook Contacts to a Outlook Contacts database. Your current Windows / CRM security settings may currently prevent this, but it may be worth checking.

An old tech method, though somewhat laborious, now most CRM systems have excellent mobile Apps, would be for a lawyer to sit at home and screen shot (or just write down) pages and pages of contact data. Again, your CRM App may be able to prevent or at east warn about this; it is also worth checking.

Finally, bear in mind that LinkedIn provides an excellent alternative manual mechanism for anyone to make list of any almost any employee of almost any law firm client – and there is absolutely nothing that you can do about that.