If you are involved in a legal matter, you may wonder if your lawyer can drop you as a client without your consent.
The answer is not so simple, as different situations may warrant different actions.
Here are some of the main reasons why a lawyer may decide to end the attorney-client relationship, and what you can do about it.
When a Lawyer Must Withdraw from Representation
According to the Rules of Professional Conduct, a lawyer must decline or withdraw from representation if the client demands that the lawyer engage in conduct that is illegal or violates the rules or other laws.
For example, if the client asks the lawyer to lie to the court, falsify evidence, or conceal a crime, the lawyer has an ethical duty to refuse and terminate the relationship.
Similarly, if the lawyer discovers that the client has used their services to commit a crime or fraud, or intends to do so in the future, the lawyer must withdraw from the case.
The lawyer cannot knowingly assist or facilitate the client’s unlawful conduct.
When a Lawyer May Withdraw from Representation
There are also some situations where a lawyer has the option to withdraw from representation, as long as it does not have a material adverse effect on the client’s interests. For instance, a lawyer may withdraw if:
- The client fails to pay the legal fees or expenses, after reasonable notice and opportunity to do so.
- The client is unreasonably difficult, abusive, or uncooperative with the lawyer or the court.
- The client persists in a course of action that the lawyer reasonably believes is criminal or fraudulent, morally repugnant, or fundamentally disagreeable to the lawyer.
- The representation will result in an unreasonable financial burden or personal hardship for the lawyer.
- The lawyer is unable to work effectively with the co-counsel or other professionals involved in the case.
- The lawyer becomes physically or mentally incapable of handling the case competently and diligently.
In some states, a lawyer may also terminate the attorney-client relationship upon notice to the client and approval by a court.
However, this may depend on the stage and nature of the case, and whether the withdrawal will prejudice the client or the administration of justice.
How a Lawyer Must Withdraw from Representation
If a lawyer decides to withdraw from representation, he or she must follow certain procedures and obligations. These include:
- Informing the client of the decision and the reasons for it, preferably in writing.
- Obtaining court approval or giving notice to the court, if required by applicable law or rules.
- Protecting the client’s interests by taking reasonable steps to avoid foreseeable harm, such as giving sufficient notice, returning papers and property, refunding unearned fees, and cooperating with successor counsel.
- Maintaining confidentiality and loyalty to the client, unless disclosure is authorized by the client or required by law or court order.
What You Can Do If Your Lawyer Drops You
If your lawyer drops you as a client, you have some options to consider. Depending on your situation, you may:
- Try to resolve the issue with your lawyer and persuade him or her to continue representing you.
- Hire another lawyer to take over your case, if you can afford it, and find one who is willing and qualified.
- Represent yourself in court, if you are confident and capable of doing so.
- Seek legal aid or pro bono services, if you qualify for them and they are available in your area.
- File a complaint against your lawyer with the state bar association, if you believe he or she acted unethically or unprofessionally.
A lawyer can drop a client under certain circumstances, but not without following proper rules and procedures.
A client has a right to know why their lawyer is withdrawing from representation, and what they can do to protect their interests.
If you are facing this situation, you should seek legal advice as soon as possible.