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Lawyers must be more important than doctors, I guess

I find it fascinating that “the legal system” generally treats non-competition covenants as OK for other people, including doctors, but not for lawyers themselves.

(There are exceptions, of course, such as California’s blanket prohibition against employee noncompetition covenants.)

Noncompetition clauses restricting a lawyer’s right to practice are deemed to violate public policy, and therefore to be per se unenforceable, because they interfere with a client’s choice of legal counsel. (There’s an exception for lawyers retiring from a firm.)

On the other hand, it’s perfectly OK for a noncompetition clause to restrict a physician’s right to practice, assuming the clause meets the usual legal standards. See, for example, the recent Georgia case of Pittman v. Coosa Med. Group, No. A09A2006 (Ga. App. Sept. 30, 2009): A state court of appeals affirmed an interlocutory injunction against a neurosurgeon who moved to another practice group in violation of a noncompetition agreement with his former group.

Sounds to me like there might be an equal-protection violation there — maybe I’m just dense, but it’s not immediately obvious to me that there’s a rational basis for treating a client’s choice of legal counsel as more important than a patient’s choice of physician.

FOOTNOTE: Two days ago I submitted a comment to this effect at the Seyfarth Shaw blog entry where I first read about the Pittman case. Seyfarth is nationally-known for its labor- and employment-law practice, representing management. You can draw your own conclusions about why my comment still hasn’t appeared in their blog entry.

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