Can My Attorney Quit?
There is a certain degree of trust and personal information that a client shares with an attorney that makes the attorney hard to replace. The sensitive information that is shared and discussed makes it hard to start over with a different legal counselor just as it is difficult to do with a mental health counselor. Yet, while it is ideal when the same attorney can represent a client from the beginning to the conclusion of a legal matter, it is not always possible.
The seriousness of terminating an attorney client relationship prior to the resolution of the legal matter has led the American Bar Association (ABA) to develop guidelines for attorneys to use if they must terminate the relationship while a matter is pending. Those guidelines are found in the Model Rules of Professional Responsibility which have been substantially adopted in many jurisdictions.
The Model Rules explain specific situations when an attorney may terminate an attorney client relationship prior to the resolution of a legal matter. Generally, the rules allow an attorney to withdraw if the withdrawal will not produce a material adverse effect on the client’s interests or if good cause for the termination exists.
However, there are certain situations when an attorney may withdraw from a case even if it is detrimental to the client’s interests. For example, if the attorney has knowledge that the client is going to do something criminal or fraudulent and the attorney has advised the client not to do the criminal or fraudulent act but the client insists on proceeding with such act then the attorney may withdraw from the case without consideration to the client’s interests. An attorney may also withdraw if a client insists on taking an action that the attorney finds repugnant or with which the attorney has a fundamental disagreement. Similarly, the attorney may withdraw if the client has used the lawyer’s services to commit a crime or a fraud.
It is not enough that the attorney disagree with the client in order to withdraw for one of the reasons described above. The client must be acting in a criminal or morally repugnant way or in a way with which the attorney fundamentally disagrees. These exceptions exist so that the attorney can continue to uphold the law by refusing to be involved in criminal activity and so that the attorney can provide adequate representation. If the attorney fundamentally disagrees with the client then it is unlikely that the attorney can provide zealous representation.
An attorney may also withdraw from a case if the client fails to pay the attorney and the attorney has given reasonable warning that the attorney will withdraw unless payment is received. Further, if the client proves unreasonably difficult or refuses to cooperate then the attorney may withdraw from the case.
If an attorney withdraws from a case, he or she must follow the notice of withdrawal rules established by the state courts in his or her jurisdiction. A court may refuse an attorney’s request to withdraw from the case and order the attorney to continue representing the client.
The law and the rules of professional responsibility encourage attorneys to work with clients until the completion of their legal matter. However, the rules also recognize that sometimes it is not in the client’s best interest to require the attorney to do so. Therefore, while the presumption is that a client will work with an attorney until the resolution of his or her legal matter, there are situations when a new attorney should be retained.
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