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Customer Lists: Are They Protected “Trade Secrets”

trade secrets
Many businesses contend that one of their most valuable assets is their customer list. The list may have taken years of careful management to create. To gather the list of customers or clients, a firm may have spent a fortune in advertising or devoted hours to directed marketing. Is the customer list considered to be a trade secret?

Trade Secrets: What Are They?

Generally speaking, a trade secret is some body of information that has value and provides a competitive advantage by virtue of remaining secret. The “owner” of the secret must also make reasonable efforts to maintain the secrecy of the information.

Customer Lists: When Are They Protected?

New York courts have held that, where customers are not known in the trade or are discoverable only by extraordinary efforts, customer lists may be protected as trade secrets. This is especially the case where “the customers’ patronage has been secured by years of effort and advertising effected by the expenditure of substantial time and money” [see Leo Silfen, Inc. v. Cream, 29 N.Y.2d 387, 392–393 (1972)].

Ordinarily, to qualify for protection, the list must represent some sort of selective accumulation of detailed information about clients or customers. Conversely, simply an alphabetical listing of customer names and addresses is little more than a phone book. The protected lists must generally be infused with value and information not known by competitors.

Many Lists Are Not Protected!

As just noted, a mere list is usually not protected, particularly in the Internet age where information is so readily available on the World Wide Web. For example, an online search of “residential plumbers in upstate New York” generates a list of many hundreds of businesses. If your business typically sells to or renders services for such plumbers, you can hardly maintain that the list itself is secret.

Courts are also reluctant, however, to require that a departing employee “forget” everything that he or she has learned while working for an employer. If the former employee gleans the contact information from his or her own memory and not from actually photocopying the employer’s proprietary information, the court may allow the use of the information – unless the employee signed a properly drafted and properly executed non-disclosure agreement.

Non-Disclosure Agreements May Provide Some Protection

Properly drafted non-disclosure agreements may provide some protection when it comes to your proprietary customer information. Great care is required, however, in preparing the necessary documents. A one-size-fits all approach usually won’t work.

Involved in a Trade Secret Dispute?

Is one (or more) of your former employees taking advantage of your hard-earned proprietary secrets? Alternatively, has your former employer accused you of improperly using information that you gained while working for that firm? In either case, having experienced and expert legal counsel is crucial. E. Stewart Jones Hacker Murphy has been representing clients in all forms of business litigation for more than 100 years. Our law practice has stood the test of time. We are one of the most highly respected law firms in upstate New York and the capital district. Make the right call. Call us now at (518) 274-5820 or complete our online form. The E. Stewart Jones Hacker Murphy law firm has an attorney available to assist clients 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year – even on holidays.

New York Sobriety Checkpoints: When Your Rights May Seem to Evaporate

sobriety checkpoints


The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures by law enforcement officers. An officer, therefore, may not stop a motorist on a whim or hunch; the officer must have reason to believe that a traffic violation or crime has been committed – e.g., speeding, improper lane change, failure to signal, etc. Without such “probable cause,” you may not be stopped, and any evidence obtained pursuant to the stop – a subsequent breathalyzer reading or a videotape of a field sobriety test – is inadmissible in a later trial.

Exception for Sobriety Checkpoints

DUI spot checks are an important exception to the normal probable cause rules. New York courts, as well as the U.S. Supreme Court, have held that the needs of the state to prevent drunk-driving accidents outweigh the minimal intrusion on sober drivers. Indeed, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has estimated that sobriety checkpoints prevent nearly one out of ten DUI-related deaths.

Police are permitted to set up sobriety checkpoints to identify drivers who are driving while impaired. They either stop every vehicle or stop vehicles at some predetermined, regular interval (e.g., every 4th vehicle).

Checkpoints Are Supposed to Be Random and Publicized

While the checkpoints are supposed to be random, they are generally set up at times when drinking and driving are most likely to occur, such as on holidays and weekends. One important guideline in the use of sobriety checkpoints: Police officials must publicize them beforehand. Advance notice related to most New York checkpoints can be found at the following web site.

Driving is a Privilege, Not a Right

New York courts have also ruled that, when a resident gets a driver’s license, he or she has impliedly consented to submit to a chemical test following an arrest for a DWI or DUI offense. If you have been involved in an accident, the officer may ask you to take a breath test and, if that test shows blood alcohol content (BAC) of greater than 0.08 percent, the officer will usually administer a chemical test.

Refusal to Take a Breath or Chemical Test

In either case, a driver can refuse the test, but not without penalty. For example, a first offense of refusal to take a chemical test is suspension of driving privileges for one year. The driver is also fined $500. One must also remember that refusing the test does not mean that you won’t be later convicted of the DWI offense. Such a conviction would entail another fine and, depending upon the circumstances, possible jail time, as well.

A DWI or DUI Charge is a Serious Matter

New York has some of the strictest drunk driving laws in the nation. The penalties for a conviction can be severe. If you have been charged with a DUI or DWI offense, you owe it to yourself to retain the best legal team available. E. Stewart Jones Hacker Murphy has the judgment and experience to negotiate the best possible plea, but we also have the skills and tenacity required to take your case to trial, if necessary.

We are one of the most highly respected law firms in upstate New York and the capital district. We have been representing clients for more than one hundred years; our law practice has stood the test of time. The E. Stewart Jones Hacker Murphy law firm has an attorney available to assist clients 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year – even on holidays. Make the right call. Call us now at (518) 274-5820 or complete our online form.

New York Real Estate Broker’s Liens FAQ

New York Real Estate Broker’s Liens FAQ

By John Harwick, Esq., featured by the Greater Capital Association of Realtors.

What is a broker’s lien?John Harwick_cropped

When a licensed real estate broker obtains a tenant for a lease of commercial property, the broker is entitled to a commission. In cases where a broker’s client is reluctant to pay a broker’s lien for the commission may be filed against the real property.

Who can file a broker’s lien?

A broker who obtained a tenant for a lease of a term of more than three years for non-residential purposes pursuant to a written contract of brokerage employment or compensation can file a lien. However, a tenant’s broker is not eligible to file a lien. Only the broker for the landlord or owner of the property is entitled to file a lien

What does the lien attach to?

The lien attaches to the leased real property.

When can a broker’s lien be filed?

The Notice of Lien may be filed after the performance of brokerage services and execution of the lease. However, if the commission is to be paid in installments then the Notice of Lien may be filed within eight (8) months after final payment is due but no later than five (5) years after the date the first payment was made.

When does the lien arise?

The lien “attaches” to the property upon filing a Notice of Lien. The Notice of Lien must be served on the owner of the property within the statutory period. If the broker does not properly serve the owner of the property, and file proof of service within the statutory deadline, then the lien is terminated and ineffective.

How do I file a lien?

The Notice of Lien must be filed in the Clerk’s office of the county where the property is situated. If the property is in two counties then it must be filed in both Clerks’ offices. The commission agreement must be attached to the Notice of Lien. There are very strict service requirements for serving notice on the property owner and filing proof of service. A broker should consult an attorney to ensure the lien is prepared, filed, and served correctly.

How long does a broker’s lien last?

A broker’s lien can last for one (1) year after the Notice of Lien is filed unless the lien holder within that one year time acts to foreclose on the lien to seek payment. The lien can be extended another year by filing a notice of extension, which must include the name of the property owner, name of the lien holder, a brief description of the property, how much the lien is for, when the original lien was filed and the extension should be served on the property owner. The lien can only be automatically extended that one time. If another extension is sought it must be through a court order.

Is a written brokerage agreement required?

Yes. Generally a written agreement is not required for a brokerage contract. However, New York Lien Law requires a “written agreement of employment or compensation” to be able to file for a broker’s lien.

Can the broker waive the right to a lien for his commission?

No. Under New York Lien Law any agreement to waive a right to file or enforce any lien will be found void as against public policy and wholly unenforceable.

Can a broker file a lien regarding the sale of real property?

No, a broker can only file a lien for commission when the broker has procured a tenant, with a lease for more than 3 years, for non-residential purposes. However, a broker can file an affidavit for entitlement of commission in a sale of real property but this does not arise to the level of a lien and has far different rules.

What is the effect of bankruptcy on a broker’s ability to file a lien?

A broker can file a lien against a client in bankruptcy as the “automatic stay” does not prevent any act to perfect or to maintain perfection of an interest in property.

What happens if the client refuses to pay?

The broker can foreclose on the lien and force the sale of the property at public auction. The cost of the sale, taxes, and superior liens will be paid first. The broker will be entitled to the surplus up to the amount of their lien.


E. Stewart Jones Hacker Murphy Law Firm Promotes Three to Partner


 TROY – The E. Stewart Jones Hacker Murphy Law Firm is proud to announce the promotion of three attorneys to the position of partner. Ryan M. Finn, Thomas J. Higgs and James C. Knox each boast successful careers spanning diverse areas of litigation. “This is an important piece of our continued growth at E. Stewart Jones Hacker Murphy,” said James E. Hacker, Managing Partner. “Ryan, Thomas and James have been integral to our success, and these new roles illustrate just how valuable they are to our firm.”

Ryan Finn (1)

Attorney Ryan Finn

Having developed a reputation as one of the more creative and effective attorneys in Upstate New York, Ryan Finn delivers the highest level of personal service to his clients. Mr. Finn has been honored as a Top 10 Personal Injury Attorney Under the age of 40 in New York State. Mr. Finn has also been consistently honored as a Super Lawyer in the fields of Labor and Employment; Business Litigation; and Personal Injury. Mr. Finn is a graduate of Albany Law School, where he was the Salutatorian of his class, and Siena College.

Thomas Higgs

Attorney Thomas Higgs

Thomas J. Higgs is a civil litigator with extensive experience in complex business litigation who has achieved successful results for his clients in both Federal and State Courts. Mr. Higgs also focuses on personal injury litigation and appellate work having argued before the Appellate Division, Third and Second Departments, and the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. In 2015, Mr. Higgs was selected by his peers as an Upstate New YorkSuper Lawyer. Mr. Higgs is a graduate of Albany Law School, where he was a member of Law Review and served as the research assistant to the late David D. Siegel, and Colgate University.

James Knox

Attorney James Knox

An accomplished litigator, James C. Knox has earned a reputation of excellence. Although his practice is focused on personal injury litigation and criminal defense, Mr. Knox has an active appellate practice, having argued before the Appellate Division, Third Department, the New York State Court of Appeals and the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. Mr. Knox has been recognized as a “Rising Star” by Super Lawyers every year since 2013, an honor bestowed upon just 2.5% of attorneys in New York State. A graduate of Lewis & Clark Law School, Mr. Knox achieves top results for his clients in State and Federal Courts and is well known for the personal dedication he invests in each client and every case.

The appointment of these three new partners ushers in the next chapter for the prestigious E. Stewart Jones Hacker Murphy Law firm. The firm continues to be committed to growing and continuing to serve its clients across New York State.


About E. Stewart Jones Hacker Murphy: The January 2015 merger of the E. Stewart Jones and Hacker Murphy law firms created an entity with a combined 134-year track record of success in the Upstate New York legal community. With offices in Albany, Troy, Latham and Saratoga Springs, the firm’s 15 attorneys offer unparalleled legal counsel in the areas of commercial litigation, property tax dispute, criminal defense and personal injury law. For more information, visit