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When Is a Lawyer Required to Refuse a Case?



In fact, in some situations, lawyers cannot accept a case or agree to represent a certain client.



Various laws and ethics rules govern the cases (and clients) a lawyer can–and cannot–accept.

Generally, lawyers have a duty not to agree to representation in the following situations:

  • Where the lawyer is not competent to handle the case.
    • (There are ways for a lawyer to compensate for this, which we’ll discuss in next week’s blog.)
  • Where the lawyer is too busy to handle the case properly.
    • This can be a particular issue for lawyers at small firms, but it happens with firms of every size.
    • Lawyers need to evaluate their calendars, case loads, and personal capacity before agreeing to accept a case.
  • Where the lawyer’s physical or mental health is impaired in a way that will or could impact the representation.
  • Where the lawyer’s personal feelings would prevent proper representation.
    • Lawyers are people too, and if a client or case conflicts with the lawyer’s personal feelings (or, in some cases, inspires too much empathy or sympathy) in a way that would compromise the lawyer’s ability to provide proper representation, the lawyer cannot take the case.
  • Where the client, or the lawyer, has a corrupt motive
    • Including (but not limited to) harassing another person, entity, lawyer, or party in the case.
    • Lawyers may be subject to discipline, or even potential malpractice liability, if they take on a case for corrupt motives.
  • Where the lawyer has an actual or likely conflict of interest
    • Some conflicts of interest can be waived, but all must be evaluated, disclosed (when necessary), and handled properly.
  • Where the client’s claim or case is frivolous/cannot be supported by law.
    • A case is legally frivolous when a lawyer cannot make good faith legal arguments for the client’s position and/or a good faith argument for a change to, or extension or overruling of, the existing law.
    • There are exceptions to this. For example: where there is a good faith argument for a change to, or extension of, existing law.
    • Criminal defendants have certain rights that may impact this also, but criminal defense lies beyond the scope of this blog. If you have questions about criminal defense or criminal law, please consult an experienced defense attorney or practitioner of criminal law.
  • Where representing the client would require the lawyer to violate the law.
    • The reason why this is not OK should be obvious.
  • Where the lawyer might be called as a witness at trial in the action.
    • While this is not an absolute bar, there are legal limits on situations in which a lawyer can represent a client if the lawyer is also a necessary witness in the case.

This is not a complete and comprehensive list of the situations in which a lawyer must refuse representation–and in some (but not all) situations, a client can waive circumstances that could otherwise prevent a lawyer from taking on a case. However, it’s important to note that a lawyer who does take on a case when (s)he should not do so, may be liable for legal malpractice (professional negligence) if the client suffers damages as a result of that decision, or of the manner in which the lawyer subsequently handles the case or matter.


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.  Please be aware that you may lose, or damage, your rights and claims if you delay.

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