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Character definitions: Reuven is the proud owner of Big Business A. Shimon was hired to work for Big Business A.

As part of his job, Shimon is responsible for interacting with various Big Business A clients. Shimon has access to information such as how much each client is paying for Big Business A's Stuff, as well as relevant contact information of each of these clients.

Shimon soon decides to leave Big Business A, and open his own Big Business B. Big Business B just happens to deal in the same Stuff as Big Business A. Shimon wants to use all his information and "hit" some of Big Business A's big clients to get them to use Big Business B's services.

So:

  • Can Shimon "steal" Reuven's clients?
  • If he does, can Reuven sue Shimon in Beis Din and win?
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This is pretty common practice in the realms of consulting, accounting, law, agency... really any professional service. Perhaps try looking into responsa to practitioners of these fields for guidance. –  Charles Koppelman Nov 18 at 20:41

1 Answer 1

R. Asher Meir at the Business Ethics Center in Jerusalem, writing for Aish HaTorah, answers a similar question thus (excerpted):

The Mishna discusses a person who climbs a wild olive tree and starts shaking the ripe olives from the branches onto the ground below. Since the olive tree doesn't belong to anybody, the olives on the ground don't belong to him; yet the Mishna states that taking them is like stealing. The reason is that the person who climbed the tree invested effort in obtaining them. The ethical course of action is for the second person to make the effort to find another tree and take its olives. By the same token, for you to take your former employer's customer lists would be almost like stealing. You should invest your own independent efforts in cultivating customers who will be drawn to your superior service.

SOURCES: Mishna Gittin 5:8; Babylonian Talmud Kiddushin 59a, Bava Metzia 10a.

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Interesting that he quotes the mishna as "is like stealing" and applies it to the case he's discussing as "almost like stealing" (emphasis supplied). Sounds like he's trying to avoid coming down with a p'sak. NTTAWWT. –  msh210 Oct 27 '11 at 2:49
    
I suspect he was trying to avoid p'sak, yes. Many of the answers I've seen on the mailing list from which this came originally have that character. Probably not unlike our CYLOR push -- we can try to answer questions but nobody here is an authority for any questioner. But obviously I'm guessing. –  Monica Cellio Oct 27 '11 at 3:31
    
"Almost like stealing" is a legal level of prohibition, i.e. not quite but almost stealing. This is the psak. No evasion here. –  Barry Oct 28 '11 at 16:05
    
@Barry, I didn't know that. How do the consequences of "almost like stealing" compare to those for "stealing"? –  Monica Cellio Oct 28 '11 at 20:30
    
This is a very different case! In the OP's case, these are clients that Shimon put effort into acquiring and has a relationship with. In the cited case, these are clients that Shimon effectively gets his pal Yitzhak to perform corporate espionage. –  Charles Koppelman Nov 18 at 20:38

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