Law Firm X goes belly-up. Its partners flee. They take the hourly cases that they brought in at Law Firm X with them to their new homes at Law Firm Y and Law Firm Z, among other attorney shops. Does what remains of Law Firm X — its estate in bankruptcy — have any right to billings that the other firms receive from the post-flight work that the new firms perform on Law Firm X's old hourly cases?

Maybe, the Second Circuit held in Geron v. Seyfarth Shaw LLP (In re Thelen LLP), No. 12-4138-bk (2d Cir. Nov. 15, 2013). The panel ruled that New York law provides a clear answer for contingent-fee cases (the old firm retains the right to the "value" of the case at the time it departs the firm) but not for hourly ones. Noting that hourly cases do have value in the sense that you expect them to produce hourly billings into the future, the court asked the New York Court of Appeals to step in to resolve the question.

Blawgletter sees no compelling reason to treat contingent and hourly cases differently for these purposes. Flat-fee cases and hybrids would seem to fall in the middle. And applying a different rule for hourly cases would seem to assure a muddle for those in-between categories.