A lawyer or a law firm may sell or purchase a law practice, or an area of law practice, including good will, if the following conditions are satisfied:
(a) The selling lawyer has not been disbarred or permanently resigned from the practice of law in lieu of discipline, and permanently ceases to engage in the practice of law, or has disappeared or died;
(b) The entire law practice, or area of law practice, is sold to another lawyer admitted and currently eligible to practice in this jurisdiction;
(c) At least ninety (90) days in advance of the sale, actual notice, either by in-person consultation confirmed in writing, or by U.S. mail, is given to each of the clients of the law practice being sold, indicating:
(1) the proposed sale of the law practice;
(2) the identity and background of the lawyer or law firm that proposes to acquire the law practice, including principal office address, number of years in practice in Louisiana, and disclosure of any prior formal discipline for professional misconduct, as well as the status of any disciplinary proceeding currently pending in which the lawyer or law firm is a named respondent;
(3) the client’s right to choose and retain other counsel and/or take possession of the client’s files(s); and
(4) the fact that the client’s consent to the transfer of the client’s file(s) will be presumed if the client does not take any action or does not otherwise object within ninety (90) days of the notice.
(d) In addition to the advance notice to each client described above, at least thirty (30) days in advance of the sale, an announcement or notice of the sale of the law practice, including the proposed date of the sale, the name of the selling lawyer, the name(s) of the purchasing lawyer(s) or law firm(s), and the address and telephone number where any person entitled to do so may object to the proposed sale and/or take possession of a client file, shall also be published: 1) in the Louisiana Bar Journal; and 2) once a week for at least two (2) consecutive weeks in a newspaper of general circulation in the city or town (or parish if located outside a city or town) in which the principal office of the law practice is located. The announcement or notice required by this Rule does not fall within the scope of Rules 7.1 through 7.10 of these Rules.
(e) The fees or costs charged clients shall not be increased by reason of the sale.
(f) (1) A lawyer or law firm that proposes to acquire a law practice may be provided, initially, with only enough information regarding the matters involved reasonably necessary to enable the lawyer or law firm to determine whether any conflicts of interest exist. If there is reason to believe that the identity of a client or the fact of representation itself constitutes confidential information under the circumstances, such information shall not be provided to the purchasing lawyer or law firm without first advising the client of the identity of the purchasing lawyer or law firm and obtaining the client’s informed consent in writing to the proposed disclosure.
If the purchasing lawyer or law firm determines that a conflict of interest exists prior to reviewing the information, or determines during the course of review that a conflict of interest exists, the lawyer or law firm shall not review or continue to review the information unless the conflict has been disclosed to and the informed written consent of the client has been obtained.
(2) A lawyer or law firm that proposes to acquire a law practice shall maintain the confidentiality of and shall not use any client information received in connection with the proposed sale in the same manner and to the same extent as if the clients of the law practice were already the clients of that acquiring lawyer or law firm.
(g) Consistent with Rule 1.16(c) of these Rules, before responsibility for a matter in litigation can be sold as part of a law practice, any necessary notice to and permission of a tribunal shall be given/obtained.
(h) Notwithstanding any sale, the client shall retain unfettered discretion to terminate the selling or purchasing lawyer or law firm at any time, and upon termination, the selling or purchasing lawyer in possession shall return such client’s file(s) in accordance with Rule 1.16(d) of these Rules.
The Louisiana Supreme Court adopted this rule on June 21, 2016. It became effective on July 1, 2016. See Order Enacting Rule 1.17 of the Rules of Professional Conduct and Amending Rule 5.4(a)(4) of the Rules of Professional Conduct (signed June 21, 2016 and effective July 1, 2016).
This rule differs from ABA Model Rule 1.17 in several respects. First, the Model Rule permits any lawyer to sell a practice. The Louisiana Rule, however, prohibits a lawyer who has been disbarred or who has permanently resigned in lieu of discipline from selling a practice.
Second, the Model Rule requires only “written notice” to the seller’s clients. The Louisiana Rule requires that such notice be given either through an in-person consultation (later confirmed in writing) or through United States mail. Moreover, the Louisiana Rule requires publication of the transfer in a local newspaper and in the LSBA Bar Journal. In addition, the notice must provide the seller’s clients with more detailed information about the buyer, including the buyer’s disciplinary history and years in practice.
Third, the Model Rule does not address related confidentiality and conflicts issues associated with a sale of a law practice. The Louisiana Rule, however, requires that a potential buyer receive only limited information about the seller’s clients to evaluate whether conflicts of interest would exist. It further requires that the potential buyer safeguard the confidentiality of any information received.
Finally, the Model Rule does not provide that “the client shall retain unfettered discretion to terminate the selling or purchasing lawyer or law firm at any time.” Although the Louisiana Rule expressly so provides, this principle is no doubt true under the Model Rule as well.
Comments to ABA Model Rule 1.17
 The practice of law is a profession, not merely a business. Clients are not commodities that can be purchased and sold at will. Pursuant to this Rule, when a lawyer or an entire firm ceases to practice, or ceases to practice in an area of law, and other lawyers or firms take over the representation, the selling lawyer or firm may obtain compensation for the reasonable value of the practice as may withdrawing partners of law firms. See Rules 5.4 and 5.6.
Termination of Practice by the Seller
 The requirement that all of the private practice, or all of an area of practice, be sold is satisfied if the seller in good faith makes the entire practice, or the area of practice, available for sale to the purchasers. The fact that a number of the seller’s clients decide not to be represented by the purchasers but take their matters elsewhere, therefore, does not result in a violation. Return to private practice as a result of an unanticipated change in circumstances does not necessarily result in a violation. For example, a lawyer who has sold the practice to accept an appointment to judicial office does not violate the requirement that the sale be attendant to cessation of practice if the lawyer later resumes private practice upon being defeated in a contested or a retention election for the office or resigns from a judiciary position.
 The requirement that the seller cease to engage in the private practice of law does not prohibit employment as a lawyer on the staff of a public agency or a legal services entity that provides legal services to the poor, or as in-house counsel to a business.
 The Rule permits a sale of an entire practice attendant upon retirement from the private practice of law within the jurisdiction. Its provisions, therefore, accommodate the lawyer who sells the practice on the occasion of moving to another state. Some states are so large that a move from one locale therein to another is tantamount to leaving the jurisdiction in which the lawyer has engaged in the practice of law. To also accommodate lawyers so situated, states may permit the sale of the practice when the lawyer leaves the geographical area rather than the jurisdiction. The alternative desired should be indicated by selecting one of the two provided for in Rule 1.17(a).
 This Rule also permits a lawyer or law firm to sell an area of practice. If an area of practice is sold and the lawyer remains in the active practice of law, the lawyer must cease accepting any matters in the area of practice that has been sold, either as counsel or co-counsel or by assuming joint responsibility for a matter in connection with the division of a fee with another lawyer as would otherwise be permitted by Rule 1.5(e). For example, a lawyer with a substantial number of estate planning matters and a substantial number of probate administration cases may sell the estate planning portion of the practice but remain in the practice of law by concentrating on probate administration; however, that practitioner may not thereafter accept any estate planning matters. Although a lawyer who leaves a jurisdiction or geographical area typically would sell the entire practice, this Rule permits the lawyer to limit the sale to one or more areas of the practice, thereby preserving the lawyer’s right to continue practice in the areas of the practice that were not sold.
Sale of Entire Practice or Entire Area of Practice
 The Rule requires that the seller’s entire practice, or an entire area of practice, be sold. The prohibition against sale of less than an entire practice area protects those clients whose matters are less lucrative and who might find it difficult to secure other counsel if a sale could be limited to substantial fee-generating matters. The purchasers are required to undertake all client matters in the practice or practice area, subject to client consent. This requirement is satisfied, however, even if a purchaser is unable to undertake a particular client matter because of a conflict of interest.
Client Confidences, Consent and Notice
 Negotiations between seller and prospective purchaser prior to disclosure of information relating to a specific representation of an identifiable client no more violate the confidentiality provisions of Model Rule 1.6 than do preliminary discussions concerning the possible association of another lawyer or mergers between firms, with respect to which client consent is not required. See Rule 1.6 (b)(7). Providing the purchaser access to client-specific information relating to the representation and to the file, however, requires client consent. The Rule provides that before such information can be disclosed by the seller to the purchaser the client must be given actual written notice of the contemplated sale, including the identity of the purchaser, and must be told that the decision to consent or make other arrangements must be made within 90 days. If nothing is heard from the client within that time, consent to the sale is presumed.
 A lawyer or law firm ceasing to practice cannot be required to remain in practice because some clients cannot be given actual notice of the proposed purchase. Since these clients cannot themselves consent to the purchase or direct any other disposition of their files, the Rule requires an order from a court having jurisdiction authorizing their transfer or other disposition. The court can be expected to determine whether reasonable efforts to locate the client have been exhausted, and whether the absent client’s legitimate interests will be served by authorizing the transfer of the file so that the purchaser may continue the representation. Preservation of client confidences requires that the petition for a court order be considered in camera. (A procedure by which such an order can be obtained needs to be established in jurisdictions in which it presently does not exist).
 All elements of client autonomy, including the client’s absolute right to discharge a lawyer and transfer the representation to another, survive the sale of the practice or area of practice.
Fee Arrangements Between Client and Purchaser
 The sale may not be financed by increases in fees charged the clients of the practice. Existing arrangements between the seller and the client as to fees and the scope of the work must be honored by the purchaser.
Other Applicable Ethical Standards
 Lawyers participating in the sale of a law practice or a practice area are subject to the ethical standards applicable to involving another lawyer in the representation of a client. These include, for example, the seller’s obligation to exercise competence in identifying a purchaser qualified to assume the practice and the purchaser’s obligation to undertake the representation competently (see Rule 1.1); the obligation to avoid disqualifying conflicts, and to secure the client’s informed consent for those conflicts that can be agreed to (see Rule 1.7 regarding conflicts and Rule 1.0(e) for the definition of informed consent); and the obligation to protect information relating to the representation (see Rules 1.6 and 1.9).
 If approval of the substitution of the purchasing lawyer for the selling lawyer is required by the rules of any tribunal in which a matter is pending, such approval must be obtained before the matter can be included in the sale (see Rule 1.16).
Applicability of the Rule
 This Rule applies to the sale of a law practice of a deceased, disabled or disappeared lawyer. Thus, the seller may be represented by a non-lawyer representative not subject to these Rules. Since, however, no lawyer may participate in a sale of a law practice which does not conform to the requirements of this Rule, the representatives of the seller as well as the purchasing lawyer can be expected to see to it that they are met.
 Admission to or retirement from a law partnership or professional association, retirement plans and similar arrangements, and a sale of tangible assets of a law practice, do not constitute a sale or purchase governed by this Rule.
 This Rule does not apply to the transfers of legal representation between lawyers when such transfers are unrelated to the sale of a practice or an area of practice.
This page was updated on January 19, 2018.