When a lawyer or firm hires a non-lawyer employee who has previously worked in the legal industry, that new staff member’s work history (and the confidential information likely obtained through that work history) risks conflicting out the firm. See, e.g., Smart Indus. Corp. v. Super. Ct., 876 P.2d 1176, 1181, 179 Ariz. 141, 146 (Ct. App. 1994) (concluding “that a trial court has authority, in a litigation setting, to disqualify counsel on the basis of a nonlawyer assistant’s conduct that would violate an ethical rule protecting a client’s confidential communications to a lawyer” and disqualifying firm because it failed to screen the assistant properly). The firm can generally avoid disqualification in the matter if the firm timely and effectively screened the employee.
Here are two helpful works on this topic:
(1) Peter H. Geraghty, ABA ETHICSearch, Screening Nonlawyer Employees for Conflicts of Interest (providing several case citations and a summary of relevant ethics opinions).
(2) Professor Cecile Champion Edwards also published a thoughtful article on the subject a few years ago. See Cecile Champion Edwards, Law Firm Disqualification and Nonlawyer Employees: A Proposal for a Consistent Analysis, 26 Miss. Coll. L. Rev. 163 (2007).