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As mergers between law firms become more common, attorneys are increasingly likely to find themselves opposing a client after a merger. Public confidence in lawyers and the legal system must necessarily be undermined when a lawyer suddenly abandons one client in favor of another. This is true regardless of the nature and extent of the representations of the clients involved and the size of the firm, how many separate offices it may maintain, or the number of jurisdictions in which the firm or its members may practice.
Plaintiff Picker International, Inc. brought legal action against defendant Varian Associates, Inc. in a patent dispute. Defendant had been represented by the Chicago law firm of McDougall, Hersh & Scott ("MH & S") in many causes of action. Plaintiff had been represented by Jones, Day, Reavis & Pogue (“Jones Day”) for over 50 years. Sometime in late 1986, Jones Day and MH & S agreed to merge their two firms. Defendant claimed that if nothing was done, the "new" law firm would be involved in the instant case and would be suing its own client. Defendant submitted a motion to disqualify the "new" law firm as counsel for plaintiff.
On the basis of the merger of the two firms representing plaintiff and defendant, should defendant’s motion to disqualify “new” law firm as counsel for plaintiff be granted?
The court held that in situations of conflict, the presumption was in favor of disqualification. The addition, the public perception of lawyers and of administration of justice was at stake. Ohio Code Prof. Resp. Canon 9 stated that a lawyer should avoid even suggestion of impropriety. The court reasoned that public confidence would be shaken if a law firm could drop one client in order to take on a more lucrative one. The court stated that while no disqualification was to be decided lightly, in some situations, the presumption was in favor of disqualification. Defendant's motion to disqualify the "new" law firm as counsel for plaintiff in this case was granted.