When Your Lawyer Quits: Avoiding Prejudice to the Client
This post is part of an ongoing series about the obligations lawyers have when terminating (quitting) representation of a client. To start from the original post, click here (the post will open in a new window).
A LAWYER MUST AVOID CAUSING PREJUDICE TO THE (FORMER) CLIENT
Lawyers who withdraw from representing a client have an affirmative duty to avoid causing damage or prejudice to the client (or the client’s case).
This means that before the lawyer ends the attorney-client relationship, the lawyer must take “reasonable steps to avoid reasonably foreseeable prejudice” to the client’s case or legal rights. CRPC 1.16(d) (See also: Matter of Dahlz (Rev.Dept. 2001) 4 Cal. State Bar Ct.Rptr. 269, 280.)
The specific actions a lawyer has to take (or not take) will vary, based on a variety of facts and circumstances specific to the client, the matter(s) in which the lawyer is representing the client, and applicable law. Like many other legal issues, there isn’t a simple “checklist” to consult. However, generally speaking, the lawyer needs to:
- Clearly and directly inform the client that the lawyer is withdrawing as legal counsel
- Best practices suggest this should be done in writing, although a writing isn’t always required.
- Explain (to the client) the effect and legal consequences of the lawyer’s withdrawal as legal counsel
- Again, although it’s not required to do this in writing, a writing helps to prove that it was done.
- Tell the client about any upcoming deadlines or other important dates (or mandatory actions) relating to the client’s case or matter
- For example: hearing and trial dates, deadlines for filing documents, statutes of limitation
- In some cases, help the client find a new lawyer (especially where the lawyer “quits” for reasons that are not the client’s fault)
AVOIDING PREJUDICE CONTINUES AFTER THE ATTORNEY-CLIENT RELATIONSHIP ENDS
The lawyer’s duty to avoid causing prejudice to a client (or the client’s case) continues even after the lawyer stops representing the client. For example:
- The lawyer must continue to maintain the confidentiality of privileged and confidential information belonging to the client
- Where ongoing litigation or arbitration exists, the lawyer must continue to protect the client’s interests in the matter, in a competent way, until a substitution of counsel is filed with the court (or until the court formally discharges/releases the lawyer from this obligation).
Lawyers have other ongoing obligations too.
If you believe a lawyer failed to comply with his or her legal duties after your attorney-client relationship ended (or did not represent you professionally and properly while (s)he was acting as your legal counsel), contact an experienced lawyer immediately for an evaluation of your legal rights.
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.