Lightbulb jokes and non-competes

Do you remember all the great light bulb jokes of the late 1990’s? You could directly insult any kind of person in just a few sentences – blondes, engineers, lawyers, doctors, etc.

The beauty of these terrible jokes was that the hyperbole was often based on some element of truth (** BUT FOR BLOND JOKES which are always baseless).*

So please, read the next few paragraphs with similar caution. I am exaggerating.

When a non-compete says Employee Fred must not:

(a) induce any current customer to end their business with company Virginia xyz for 1 year after Employee leaves the company,

  • The Engineer reads the sentence to mean: He can speak to customers, sell them competing product, so long as he doesn’t overtly induce or tell them to stop doing business with his old company;. He can tell the customer to call him and wait for the customer to ask for the product. It’s just a technicality.
  • The computer programmer reads the sentence to mean: I’m the man, and I won’t need to induce the customers because they will follow me anywhere.
  • The doctor reads the sentence to mean: Not a problem, I won’t induce anyone because I don’t care if patients follow. I will get new patients. So it doesn’t apply to me.
  • The salesman reads the sentence to mean: I can still sell the product, I just can’t tell them to stop buying from my old company. And I should go ahead and tell the client now I am leaving and plan to sell a different product in a few weeks.
  • The government contractor reads the sentence to mean: Everyone knows these clauses are unenforceable, right?
  • The accountant reads the sentence to mean: I can never open my own firm because I cannot provide services to someone without inducing that person to end business with my old firm. I am therefore an indentured servant.
  • The car guy reads that sentence to mean: So I just give the customer my cell phone number instead, and no one knows right?

Yes, I am exaggerating.

Yes, I am being overly harsh. Yes, the above list is fictional and not based on actual clients. Just stereotypes.

But I am also speaking from experience that different types of people, read contractual obligations to mean different things. My job is to make it as clear as possible, what the actual prohibition is, provide advice on how to NOT break your contract (which is not the same as how to break your contract but cover it up) and how to feed your family without inviting a lawsuit.

The good news is, I can usually tell where my client is coming from – help translate the agreement, and create a path where actions do not invite litigation. That’s my job.

So, if you are not sure what the word “induce” actually means, I am happy to help.

I am also happy to share my favorite light blub jokes.

How many William and Mary students does it take to screw in a lightbulb? What? Light bulbs? This is Colonial Williamsburg, do you mean light a candle?



** Note the author of this blog is blonde and overly sensitive to blonde jokes, thus the disclaimer.

Lauren Ellerman
Lauren Ellerman

In 2011, Lauren Ellerman was named "Young Lawyer of the Year" by the Roanoke Bar Association for her work in the community. To speak with Lauren about your personal injury case, contact her at