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Rule 5.6 Restrictions on Right to Practice

A lawyer shall not participate in offering or making:

(a) a partnership, shareholders, operating, employment, or other similar type of agreement that restricts the right of a lawyer to practice after termination of the relationship, except an agreement concerning benefits upon retirement; or

(b) an agreement in which a restriction on the lawyer's right to practice is part of the settlement of a controversy between private parties.


[1] An agreement restricting the right of lawyers to practice after leaving a firm not only limits their professional autonomy but also limits the freedom of clients to choose a lawyer. Paragraph (a) prohibits such agreements except for restrictions incident to provisions concerning retirement benefits for service with the firm.

[2] Paragraph (b) prohibits a lawyer from agreeing not to represent other persons in connection with settling a claim on behalf of a client.

[3] This Rule does not prohibit restrictions that may be included in the terms of the sale of a law practice pursuant to Rule 1.17.

History Note: Statutory Authority G.S. 84-23

Adopted by the Supreme Court: July 24, 1997

Amendments Approved by the Supreme Court: March 1, 2003

Ethics Opinion Notes

RPC 13. Opinion rules that a retirement agreement may require a lawyer to accept inactive status as a condition of payment of retirement benefits.

RPC 179. Opinion rules that a lawyer may not offer or enter into a settlement agreement that contains a provision barring the lawyer who represents the settling party from representing other claimants against the opposing party.

2001 Formal Ethics Opinion 10. Opinion prohibits a lawyer from entering into an employment agreement with a law firm that includes a provision reducing the amount of deferred compensation the lawyer will receive if the lawyer leaves the firm and engages in the private practice of law within a 50-mile radius of the firm's offices.

2003 Formal Ethics Opinion 9. Opinion rules that a lawyer may participate in a settlement agreement that contains a provision limiting or prohibiting disclosure of information obtained during the representation even though the provision will effectively limit the lawyer's ability to represent future claimants.

2007 Formal Ethics Opinion 6. Opinion rules that a partnership, shareholders, or other similar agreement may include a repurchase or buy-out provision that takes into account the loss in firm value generated by the lawyer's departure provided the provision is fair and is not based solely upon loss in value due to the loss of client billings.

2008 Formal Ethics Opinion 8. Opinion rules that a provision in a law firm employment agreement for dividing legal fees received after a lawyer's departure from a firm must be reasonable and may not penalize or deter the withdrawing lawyer from taking clients with her.

2012 Formal Ethics Opinion 12. Opinion rules that an agreement for a departing lawyer to pay his former firm a percentage of any legal fee subsequently recovered from the continued representation of a contingent fee client by the departing lawyer does not violate Rule 5.6 if the agreement was negotiated by the departing lawyer and the firm after the departing lawyer announced his departure from the firm and the specific percentage is a reasonable resolution of the dispute over the division of future fees.

2017 Formal Ethics Opinion 5. Opinion rules that an agreement between law firms engaged in merger negotiations not to solicit or hire lawyers from the other firm for a relatively short period of time after expiration of the term of the agreement is permissible because it is a de minimis restriction on lawyer mobility that does not impair client choice and is reasonable under the circumstances.

2023 Formal Ethics Opinion 2. Opinion rules that a confidentiality clause contained in a settlement agreement that restricts a lawyer’s ability to practice law violates Rule 5.6.

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