I live and work in Bellevue, WA. I recently resigned my position at technology-centric professional services company and went to work at a competitor. Since starting my new position, I've received several threatening emails from my former employer basically being told to "watch my step" in my new business development efforts because of my non-compete / non-solicitation agreement. Upon leaving my former position, the (former) HR Manager confided in me that the company executives never had the language of the non-compete / non-solicitation reviewed by a lawyer, and she suspected it wouldn't stand up in court.
Basically, I'd like to have the non-compete / non-solicitation agreement reviewed by an attorney who can tell a) this is legitimate and I should comply because I would lose in court; b) the agreement is basically worthless and would never stand up in court or c) somewhere in between.
My questions are 2:
1) Should I see a "contracts / agreements" attorney or an "employment / labor" attorney? Or are there attorneys who do both?
2) How much should something like this cost? One hour worth of billing? Are there such things as "free consultations?"
1) you should see an employment (not labor) lawyer familiar with the many issues surrounding covenants not to compete with former employers. Experienced employment lawyers bill between $200 and $500 per hour. Generally, the "free consultation" is limited to screening clients to ensure that they have a problem the lawyer can address - once you start getting legal advice, you should expect to pay for it.
2) the attorney should definitely review the content of the emails from your former employer, as well as the non-compete itself.
3) I would NOT recommend that you pay any attention at all to the opinions of anyone except an employment lawyer regarding the validity of the agreement you signed.
Qualified employment lawyers are listed on www.welaweb.org - You should ask the attorney whom you call whether s/he also has experience in evaluating non-compete agreements.
Contracts / Agreements Lawyer
I think an employment attorney is a good idea here. Look on AVVO for an experienced attorney. I doubt that it will take long for an experienced employment attorney to review the non-compete clause in the contract and give you an opinion.
Generally, non-compete covenants must be limited in scope, geography and duration. Note also, that non-compete agreements signed after employment without additional consideration will not be enforcable in WA.
It would probably be worthwhile for the attorney to also review and respond to the letters from the previous employer.