Can a Lawyer Quit Representing a Client?
CAN MY LAWYER QUIT REPRESENTING ME?
Short answer: yes.
More accurately: Lawyers can withdraw from representing a client (or “quit” representing the client) in a variety of situations. However, as a general rule, lawyers can’t just “quit” any time they feel like doing so.
In fact, a lawyer who withdraws, or terminates a relationship with a client, has a number of legal obligations–some of which continue even after the attorney-client relationship ends. A lawyer who fails to comply with all of the applicable obligations may face serious consequences, including claims of professional negligence (malpractice) if the client suffers damages as a result of the lawyer’s inappropriate behavior and failure to comply with his or her legal responsibilities.
WHAT DOES A LAWYER HAVE TO DO WHEN TERMINATING THE ATTORNEY-CLIENT RELATIONSHIP?
When terminating the attorney-client relationship and withdrawing as counsel, a lawyer needs to:
- Act in a way that does not cause prejudice to the client.
- Protect confidential information about or belonging to the (former) client
- Return any fees (and refundable retainers) the client paid that the lawyer has not earned by the date of termination/withdrawal
- If the matter involves ongoing litigation/arbitration, obtain permission from the court/tribunal (if necessary)
- Sign a substitution of counsel form (if necessary) and cooperate with successor counsel
- Release the client’s files and related documents (usually, upon request)
- Any other duties required by applicable law
For more information about these duties, click on the links above, which lead to separate articles (if any items are not linked, please check back in a week or two, as we will be posting these articles in the weeks to come).
A LAWYER THAT FAILS TO FULFILL THE REQUIRED DUTIES MAY BE SUBJECT TO DISCIPLINE OR GUILTY OF MALPRACTICE
The duties imposed on a lawyer who withdraws from or terminates an attorney-client relationship are not optional.
A lawyer who fails to fulfill all of the necessary duties and obligations may face a number of consequences, including:
- discipline from the Bar Association or other licensing and oversight entities
- malpractice liability — potentially including a duty to compensate the client for damages caused by the lawyer’s wrongful acts
- licensing consequences (related to the discipline mentioned above) like suspension, penalties, and (in serious or repeated cases) disbarment
Disclaimer: THIS ARTICLE IS FOR INFORMATIONAL PURPOSES ONLY, AND DOES NOT CONSTITUTE LEGAL ADVICE OR CREATE AN ATTORNEY-CLIENT RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN THE AUTHOR OR ROSS LAW AND ANY PERSON. Your legal rights and experiences may vary. Never use an online article (including this one) to evaluate your legal rights or claims. Consult an experienced attorney promptly to obtain a personalized evaluation of your claims, potential damages, and the various legal rights and options available to you.
You may lose or compromise your rights if you delay in consulting legal counsel. Most legal claims (and defenses), as well as legal and court procedures, are complicated and fact-dependent. If you believe you have a claim against someone who injured you, a lawyer who represented you in a previous lawsuit, or any other legal claim, consult an experienced lawyer immediately for an evaluation of your individual rights and claims.