APPELLATE COURT OF ILLINOIS, THIRD DISTRICT
548 N.E.2d 1331, 192 Ill. App. 3d 693, 139 Ill. Dec. 617 1989.IL.1986
Appeal from the Circuit Court of Peoria County; the Hon. Thomas G. Ebel, Judge, presiding.
JUSTICE DUNN delivered the opinion of the court. UNVERZAGT, P.J., and McLAREN, J., concur.
DECISION OF THE COURT DELIVERED BY THE HONORABLE JUDGE DUNN
Defendant, Robert Burnett (Burnett), appeals from an order of the circuit court of Peoria County granting a preliminary injunction to plaintiffs, Lester Berry Smith (Smith) and Smith, Waters, Kuehn, Burnett & Hughes, Ltd. . The order restrained Burnett, an attorney, from soliciting clients for workers' compensation and personal injury cases in most Illinois counties. Burnett argues that the order should be reversed, because: (1) plaintiffs failed to establish the requisites for injunctive relief; (2) the compensation provision in his employment agreement with SWKB & H was vague and indefinite, rendering the agreement unenforceable; (3) such a restriction on an attorney's ability to practice law violates public policy; and (4) the restrictive covenants in the employment contract were unenforceable. We reverse and remand.
SWKB & H, formerly known as Lester Berry Smith, Ltd., is a professional corporation engaged in the practice of law. The firm has an office in Peoria and specializes in representing injured parties in personal injury and workers' compensation cases. The firm has an extensive practice throughout southern and central Illinois. Burnett began working for Lester Berry Smith, Ltd., in 1981.
In 1984, Smith, the sole shareholder, decided to sell his stock in the firm. Burnett and three other attorneys from the firm agreed to purchase the stock in February of that year. On February 7, 1984, Smith and the firm executed a contract that was labeled as a consulting agreement. Under the terms of this agreement, Smith was to receive 10% of the total fees collected by the firm for the next 10 years and certain other remuneration. The agreement further provided that Smith could provide consulting services for the firm for three years but was not required to do so.
Section 5.02 of the contract prohibited Smith from soliciting or accepting business from any firm clients for a period of 10 years. This provision also barred Smith during the same period from opening an office within a 50-mile radius of a certain intersection in Peoria, a certain intersection in Urbana, and the county courthouse in Effingham.
The recitals in the beginning of the agreement included the following statement:
"The Consultant will be effectively precluded from receiving the remuneration specified in this Agreement unless each of the Shareholders enter into employment agreements incident to which each is precluded from competing with the Corporation during and after the cessation of their employment with the Corporation for a period of time."
Each of the four new shareholders, including Burnett, signed employment agreements with the corporation the same day Smith entered into the consulting agreement.
Burnett's employment agreement contained the following relevant provisions:
"03.01 The Corporation hereby offers to employ the Employee to perform such services in respect of the Business as may periodically be designated by the Corporation and in accordance with such rules, regulations and procedures as may periodically be promulgated by the Corporation.
03.02 The Employee hereby accepts the Corporation's offer and agrees to work full time and devote the Employee's attention and best abilities exclusively to the services of the Corporation. The Employee shall refrain from engaging in, directly or indirectly, ...