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Duties owed in an attorney/client relationship go both ways

Many clients believe that once they hire an attorney, the attorney is bound by handslaw to represent them zealously until the case is concluded.  This is true to an extent.  Before a lawsuit is filed, an attorney may actually terminate his/her relationship with a client for any reason or no reason.  As long as the client is notified in writing and properly advised as to how to proceed, an attorney is not bound to a client.

However, the relationship changes somewhat where a lawsuit has been filed.  In such cases, an attorney must seek court approval before terminating a relationship with a client. This is done by way of a Motion to Withdraw, and must be based on “good cause.”  The client must be served with a copy of the Motion by certified mail.

Good cause has been shown in situations where a client fails to cooperate with his/her attorney (including failing to respond to phone calls, e-mails, or letters), a client fails to pail his/her legal bills, a client is untruthful with his/her attorney, or where the attorney and the client have a fundamental disagreement as to the handling of the case.

I was recently forced to file a Motion to Withdraw in a case where my client would not return phone calls, e-mails, texts or letters.  This went on for several months.  Indeed, without the client’s cooperation, I was unable to adequately respond to discovery requests on his behalf, or to properly litigate the case.  Much to my client’s disappointment, my Motion was granted.

Before hiring an attorney, it is important for a client to know that in a lawyer/client relationship, not only the lawyer is bound to fulfill certain duties.  The client also owes duties to his/her attorney.  Such duties and responsibilities include being:

  • Truthful with your lawyer
  • Cooperative with and responsive to your lawyer
  • Available to your lawyer and attending legal proceedings, as requested
  • On time with paying your legal bills in a timely manner

These duties and responsibilities may be implied even without a retainer agreement that expressly commits them to writing. In fact, a failure to comply with any of these duties may result in a lawyer terminating the relationship.

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