Sunday, March 26, 2017

If I leave my firm, can I take my clients with me?

After working for a mental health clinic for more than a decade, a mental health therapist (let's call her "Lil") has decided to accept an offer from a clinic a few towns away. She enjoyed her work, her colleagues, and her clients, but the new opportunity gave her a chance to focus more on the type of work she enjoyed the most.

Lil established and maintained a good relationship with her current employer over the years, so she is leaving on good terms. Her supervisor and colleagues are sad to see her go, but they've been supportive about her decision. She planned to give them at least a month's notice so she could transition her current clients to new therapists at the clinic.

As Lil began to tell her clients that she would be leaving, all were sad to hear the news, but she reassured them that she would leave them in good hands at the clinic. Because she had established strong rapport with her ongoing clients, her reassurance calmed them about the transition.

But a handful of the clients asked her about shifting to see her at her new place of work after she moved there. At first, Lil felt uneasy about encouraging them to leave since she didn't want to do anything to jeopardize the health of the practice she'd be leaving. Nevertheless, many clients persisted in asking if she would consider seeing them at her new clinic after she moved.

"Is it wrong for me to tell clients they can make appointments to come see me at the new clinic?" Lil asks. "Would I somehow be betraying a trust with my soon-to-be former employer?"

If Lil had signed a non-compete agreement with the current clinic, she would likely find taking any existing clients with her to be a problem. Depending on the details of the non-compete agreement, she also might need to consult with her current employer to make sure that nothing about the move itself violates the agreement. I am not an attorney, so I would not be qualified to give Lil advice on whether or how she should do this. My inclination would be that the agreement limits her in what she can do.

But Lil tells me that she was not asked to sign a non-compete agreement with her current clinic. If that's the case, then her concern about doing what's fair to it is well-placed, but it shouldn't limit her from being able to build her practice at the new clinic or to consider accepting appointments from former clients who want to continue to see her.

Lil would be wrong to strongly advise her current clients to abandon the practice she's about to leave. But it should be each client's decision about what therapist he or she wants to work with.

The right thing is to be honest with her employers about her decision to leave, and to let clients know she is leaving as well. If clients ask where Lil is going and what type of work she will be doing, she should tell them. If they decide to follow her to the new practice, and she has not committed otherwise to her current employer, Lil should welcome them and continue to build the relationship she has already established with each of them. 

Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Simple Art of Business Etiquette: How to Rise to the Top by Playing Nice, is a lecturer in public policy and director of the communications program at Harvard's Kennedy School. He is also the administrator of, a blog focused on ethical issues. 

Do you have ethical questions that you need answered? Send them to 

Follow him on Twitter: @jseglin 



Azalea Annie said...

This isn't a tough decision, Lil, and you know the answer. If you are asking others to tell you whether or not it's wrong for you to encourage clients to follow you to your next job, then you know it's wrong.

It's wrong on three levels:

First, for you to cannibalize the current location is wrong; it's unethical.

Next, for you to encourage clients to depend on you is wrong; the client(s) must learn to depend on themselves, and part of your work is to see that this happens.

Next, the clients should not be encouraged to drive miles further.

Make an honest effort to encourage your clients to remain at the current practice. Your job is not to become a leaning post for your clients: your job is to help your clients to stand on their own.

Anonymous said...

Having only worked in the corporate world my entire career, I didn't have "clients", so my comments would only be those of an interested person. The subject of this question is well acquainted with the agreement she has with her current employer and the agreements she had with her current clients. There should be no question about dealing with her current clients outside her current job since she had signed a "non-compete" clause so the problem of how to deal with her current clients is solved. It amazes me that the person who has asked how to deal with her current clients since she definitely has to follow the dictates of her current job agreements.

Charlie Seng