Win-Win: Division Ushers in Rule 1.17 Improvements for Legal Practice Buyers and Sellers


Practicing lawyers work hard to build their practices and serve their clients. The ABA Law Practice Division was an original sponsor of the rule allowing sales of law practices, ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct 1.17. Rule 1.17 was designed to allow retiring lawyers to recover some value for their practice-building efforts.

Problem: Rule 1.17 Stifled Buyer/Seller Collaboration After the Sale

The problem that we in the Law Practice Division saw with Rule 1.17, however, was that Rule 1.17(a)(1) seemed to prevent the lawyer selling his or her practice from continuing to work with the buyer after the sale. This inability to help transition files put client interests at risk. It increased the risk that important clients might leave the practice during the transition period. In short, it prevented the seller and buyer from maximizing the value of the practice sold.

The Solution: ABA Formal Opinion 468

Seeking a solution, the Law Practice Division sought to amend Rule 1.17(a)(1) so that a seller could work with a buyer after the sale of a law practice. Recognizing the importance of this issue, The ABA Standing Committee on Ethics and Professional Responsibility knew an ethics opinion would be a quicker way to effect the desired change. The result: ABA Formal Opinion 468, the first of two potential opinions addressing issues relating to the sale of law practices.

Best said by our Michael Downey of Armstrong Teasdale, Immediate Past Chair of the Law Practice Division who proposed the original change: “We are very glad that the Standing Committee suggested a quick, effective way to make selling a practice easier and better for lawyers and clients.” The Division would like to thank Mike for his hard work on this issue, and for finding a solution to a problem that affects every lawyer buying or selling a practice.

Read ABA Formal Opinion 468 [PDF]

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