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Law School Case Brief

Wieder v. Skala - 80 N.Y.2d 628, 593 N.Y.S.2d 752, 609 N.E.2d 105 (1992)

Rule:

In any hiring of an attorney as an associate to practice law with a firm there is implied an understanding so fundamental to the relationship and essential to its purpose as to require no expression: that both the associate and the firm in conducting the practice will do so in accordance with the ethical standards of the profession.

Facts:

Howard L. Wieder contended that he was wrongfully discharged as the result of his insistence that a fellow associate's misconduct be reported as required by Model Code of Professional Responsibility DR 1-103(A). Further, he contended that his termination by the law firm was a breach of the employment relationship. The appellate court concluded that Wieder failed to state a cause of action because he was an at-will employee. 

Issue:

Has Wieder stated a claim for relief either for breach of contract in violation of this State's public policy?

Answer:

Yes

Conclusion:

The court concluded that Wieder had stated a valid claim for breach of contract based on an implied-in-law obligation in his relationship with his law firm. Intrinsic to the employment relationship here was the unstated but essential compact that in conducting the firm's legal practice both attorney and his law firm would do so in compliance with the prevailing rules of conduct and ethical standards of the profession. Insisting that as an associate attorney in their employ must act unethically and in violation of one of the primary professional rules amounted to nothing less than a frustration of the only legitimate purpose of the employment relationship. Next, the court concluded that recognition of the tort of abusive discharge was to come from the legislature.

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