Ex-partner tried to 'spirit away' clients, claims firm

A LIVERPOOL firm has launched a High Court action against a former partner it accuses of attempting to “spirit away” clients.

Paul Rooney & Co alleges that Mike Hogan breached his contract after leaving the firm in August to join the practice of another former Rooneys partner, Paul Crowley.

Mrs Justice Ebsworth, sitting in Liverpool last week, heard how a clause in Hogan's three-year contract banned him from taking instructions from former Rooney clients within a 10-mile radius of the firm for 12 months after leaving it.

Hogan's counsel, Robert Sterling, said the solicitor admitted attempting to solicit clients by writing letters to 35 of them and gave an undertaking not to do it again. But he argued that the contested clause was “an unenforceable restraint of trade” and that clients were entitled to the services of any solicitor they chose.

Sterling also said that Hogan's contract had ended in April 1995 and thereafter there was “a partnership at will” and not a fixed-term contract and that the covenant was nullified.

Louis Browne, counsel for Paul Rooney, the firm's senior partner, said that the clause was reasonable. He argued that Rooney could suffer “a potential loss of revenue and had a legitimate interest which he sought to protect.”

“Spiriting away of clients will cause loss,” said Browne. He added that Rooney was entitled to reasonable protection.

After the day-long hearing, Judge Ebsworth adjourned her judgment until Friday.