Every lawyer welcomes a good, paying client. By the same token, every party seeking a lawyer wants to engage competent, diligent, ethical counsel.

From a lawyer’s perspective, engagement can be viewed as opening the gate to a prospective client and welcoming them into the fold by agreeing to represent them. A lawyer has the greatest obligations to a current client inside the gate. Upon disengagement, the former client is outside the gate.

Each stage of relationship—prospective client, current client, and former client—carries with it a distinct set of lawyer responsibilities. In the United States, the rules of most jurisdictions are based on the ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct. Intellectual property lawyers are governed by the rules of their state and the rules of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

A successful, ethical lawyer should watch the gates that separate prospective clients, current clients, and former clients, and should comply with the rules that apply to each stage of the relationship. The clients of such a lawyer will be well served.

A longer version of this article will be presented to the 35th Annual Houston Fall Institute on IP Law on Sept. 27, 2019.