Attorney Disqualification for Probability of Acquiring Confidential Information Due to His Association With Defendant's Concern

In Cardinale v. Golinello, 43 NY2d 288, 295-296, 372 N.E.2d 26, 401 N.Y.S.2d 191 [1977], a partner in a small firm had represented the defendant in connection with the purchase of corporate stock. After the transaction had been completed, attorney Schiller joined the firm. The firm continued representing the defendant after Schiller's arrival, but Schiller was not involved in the representation on the defendant's behalf. Schiller subsequently left the firm and became associated with another law firm, which was retained by the plaintiff for a suit against the defendant arising out of the earlier stock purchase. The Court of Appeals reasoned that, while the size of the firm was not determinative, the nature of the firm and the character of its practice were such that there was "understandable informality," conducive to "constant cross-pollination" and a "cross-current of discussion and ideas" among all attorneys on all matters handled by the firm; thus, there was a greater likelihood of acquiring material client confidences. Importantly, the court noted that it was of "no moment" that Schiller had never personally rendered legal services to the defendant, because, being associated with the defendant's attorney, the possibility was simply too great that he had wittingly or unwittingly acquired confidential information. Thus, the court granted the motion to disqualify Schiller.