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La Salle Nat'l Bank v. Cty. of Lake - 703 F.2d 252 (7th Cir. 1983)

Rule:

There exists a three-level inquiry to be undertaken in order to determine if a substantial relationship exists between the former and subsequent representation. First, the trial court must make a factual reconstruction of the scope of the prior legal representation. Second, it must be determined whether it is reasonable to infer that the confidential information allegedly given would have been given to a lawyer representing a client in the matters being reviewed. Third, it must be determined whether that information is relevant to the issues raised in the litigation pending against the former client.

Facts:

A former government attorney, Marc Seidler, took up the practice of law with a large law firm. Lake County, Illinois was the former employer of Seidler, who then practiced law with Rudnick & Wolfe, the firm representing the plaintiffs-appellants. Lake County moved to disqualify Rudnick & Wolfe because of the County's former relationship with Seidler. The district court granted the motion, finding that the past association gave rise to an appearance of impropriety and holding that both Seidler and Rudnick & Wolfe must be disqualified. Plaintiffs appealed the disqualification as a collateral order appealable under the doctrine set forth in Cohen v. Beneficial Loan Corp., 337 U.S. 541, 93 L. Ed. 1528, 69 S. Ct. 1221 (1949)

Issue:

Was the district court's order disqualifying Rudnick & Wolfe from representing a client based on an attorney in the law firm having represented appellee county during the time that the county was involved in negotiating contracts relevant to the litigation in the district court proper?

Answer:

Yes

Conclusion:

The court affirmed the district court's order and held that the order was a collateral order and appealable. The court further held that the proper test on disqualification was whether there was a substantial relationship between the Seidler's prior representation of the county and the litigation pending in the district court, which the court found to exist, and Rudnick & Wolfe had not established any proper screening methods prior to representing their client in the litigation to prevent the confidential information learned by Seidler from being used by the law firm.

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