Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

Important considerations before terminating your representation

When taking on a new client, most lawyers never dream of having to terminate that relationship prior to the conclusion of the case.

But it happens for a variety of reasons, whether amicably and with the consent of the client or because of divergent views on how the case should be handled, unpaid attorneys’ fees, etc.

As young lawyers, it is important to understand that, even after a decision is made to terminate the attorney-client relationship, an attorney still has important and ongoing ethical duties.

First, a lawyer must continue to protect and advance her client’s interests, regardless of whether there is pending motion to withdraw her appearance. This includes protecting the attorney-client privilege.

It is tempting, as lawyers, to include “everything but the kitchen sink” to support why you should be permitted to get out of a case. But your motion to strike your appearance should be as protective of the privilege as possible.

Therefore, simply asserting that there is an unwaivable conflict is more advisable than laying out any details of the conflict. There may come a time when those details have to be fleshed out- whether in response to the client’s assertions or the judge’s inquiry. In any event, it is best to stay as tight-lipped as possible in the beginning.

You should also be careful about attaching the “5 day” letter as an exhibit to your motion. A good rule of thumb is, if the letter contains anything other than a basic notice of intention to withdraw and a statement about notifying the clerk of how the client is going to proceed, it should not be attached to the motion. Instead, you can file a certificate, specifically certifying that you complied with the requirements of Maryland Rule 2-132(b).

The inquiry changes, of course, if your client consents to your withdrawal. In that case, you should draft your motion and send it to your client to review and approve before filing. I would also include a signature line on the motion for my client to approve the motion as to content and form.

It is important to remember that, even if your client wants you out of the case and you file a motion to strike your appearance, until that motion is  granted, you are still the attorney of record. Therefore, you must sign and file all papers to be filed with the court. Otherwise, those papers could be stricken by the court.

Also, while your motion is pending, you have a duty to your client to move the case forward. If there are pending deadlines, you must take actions and file whatever papers are necessary to comply with those deadlines.

You should consult with your ethics counsel if you have any questions prior to providing notice and filing a motion. You also would be wise to re-read the Rules of Professional Conduct and do some basic legal research based on the particulars of your matter. Your duties are often case specific and you may save yourself valuable time, effort and expense by getting advice and a firm understanding of your duties upfront.