Two local lawyers who struck out on their own last spring are caught up in a legal feud with their former firm.
Julia Adair and Deanna Hathaway, who left the Boleman Law Firm to start their own bankruptcy practice, were sued this month in Richmond Circuit Court by Boleman over allegations that they conspired to damage the firm and lure clients away. Boleman is seeking total damages of more than $1.5 million.
The attorney representing Hathaway and Adair sees plenty of holes in Boleman’s case.
“Lawyers leave law firms all time,” said Brad Marrs of the Marrs Law Firm, who is representing Adair, Hathaway and their new firm Hathaway Adair PC. “This is an everyday occurrence. I find the suit mystifying.”
Boleman’s suit alleges counts of breach of fiduciary duty, tortious interference with business, breach of contract on their employment agreements and statutory conspiracy.
Hathaway and Adair resigned April 11 from Boleman. Boleman’s suit claims they departed “after a very contrived and deceptive plan to establish their new local and competing law firm.”
It also alleges they used Boleman-owned resources such as phones and computers to lure prospective and current clients to Hathaway Adair. Boleman claims to have lost substantial revenue as a result.
Boleman president Russell Boleman III could not be reached for comment by press time.
The firm is represented by Leslie A.T. Haley of Haley Law. She would not comment beyond what’s stated in the lawsuit.
Deanna Hathaway referred questions to Marrs but said, “We’re obviously going to deny and defend it. We’re going to file our own response.”
Marrs questioned why the suit was filed in the first place: “To me, it’s very strange to file a suit where you spread all this on the public record.”
Marrs said ethics rules protect attorneys in Virginia from the enforcement of any sort of non-compete employment contracts, particularly as they relate to the relationship between a lawyer and his or her clients. Those rules are in place to prevent an infringement on a client’s right to choose a preferred lawyer, regardless of what firm he or she is with.
Lawyers often start their own firms or jump to competing firms, taking their book of business and clients with them.
“Professional services are not like what you have if you were selling carpet or selling cars,” Marrs said. “The rules that apply are different.”
Boleman is seeking a jury trial in the case, but Marrs likes his clients’ chances.
“I don’t expect this to go very far, let me put it that way,” he said.