I am starting a public relations company. I currently work for an agency but not under contract. Is there any law that prevents me from pitching to clients who I represent at the agency I currently work for?
2 Answers from Attorneys
Are you sure you do not have a non-compete clause when you submitted your application to be hired initially? If not, you are home free. However, that does not mean you may not be a defendant in a suit, by anyone (whether right or wrong) for tortious interference with their business model.
Mr. Kashanian summed up my answer to some degree. However, you should review your company's employee handbook. It's possible that they have rules regarding how you interact with clients that you were required to review and may be held accountable to even though you never "signed on the dotted line." Also, if you are asking your current employer's clients to leave them and join you it would almost certainly be viewed as tortious interference if not a breach of your fiduciary duty or possibly embezzling in extreme cases. Frankly, it would also be highly unethical and any client you approached in such a manner may also be highly offended and your new company may be "blacklisted" before you even open your doors.
The standard and safest way to do what you need follows two basic paths: 1) If you don't plan on competing with them and are going to work part-time while building your own business you should disclose to your company what your plans are and explain to them how you will not use their time or resources to pursue your external business (There is even a possibility they would want to support your business idea and initiative as a backer). Then, if you approach their clients you aren't stepping on any toes. 2) If you are going to compete directly with them, you should not take any hard copies or electronic copies of customer lists. You should tell your employer you're leaving to start your own company and, if they allow you to meet with clients despite that, you can feel free to give them your new card and setup a separate time to pitch your new business' ideas. Do not use your current employer's time to conduct new business. If they ask you to stop meeting clients, you can take everything you retain mentally to establish connections and plans for your new venture.
There is a gray area between options 1 and 2 that may result in litigation and you would need to consult an attorney with more specific facts to determine the best course of action to get your business off to a good start. When making your business plan for such a scenario, I recommend planning for six months to a year without a pay check regardless of the method you choose.
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