Since most people turn to an attorney when they need help with serious, often complex issues, the client-attorney relationship is an important one. Most often those relationships are cooperative and beneficial. For a number of reasons, however, attorney-client relationships may end before expected. More complicated than a simple verbal break-up, the attorney must adhere to certain protocols to officially terminate representation in litigation.
Common Reasons for Withdrawing
Since a client usually signs a contract with an attorney which outlines the expectations for their relationship, generally the interaction goes as planned. Sometimes, however, the relationship does not go as expected; For example, the client may be unable to pay the attorney, or the client may object to the attorney’s advice and want to end the relationship. The attorney may be unable to do as the client expects, or the client may simply stop communicating with the attorney.
In some situations, the attorney may still be obligated to represent the client, particularly if there is an upcoming deadline in a case. In fact, according to the Texas Rules of Professional Conduct quoted below, an attorney may not end the relationship unless the following situations occur:
(b) Except as required by paragraph (a), a lawyer shall not withdraw from representing a client unless:
(1) withdrawal can be accomplished without material adverse effect on the interests of the client;
(2) the client persists in a course of action involving the lawyer's services that the lawyer reasonably believes may be criminal or fraudulent;
(3) the client has used the lawyer's services to perpetrate a crime or fraud;
(4) a client insists upon pursuing an objective that the lawyer considers repugnant or imprudent or with which the lawyer has fundamental disagreement;
(5) the client fails substantially to fulfill an obligation to the lawyer regarding the lawyer's services, including an obligation to pay the lawyer's fee as agreed, and has been given reasonable warning that the lawyer will withdraw unless the obligation is fulfilled;
(6) the representation will result in an unreasonable financial burden on the lawyer or has been rendered unreasonably difficult by the client; or
(7) other good cause for withdrawal exists.
Tex. R. Disc. Prof'l. Cond. 1.15
Even if one or more of these situations exist, the attorney still must formally end that relationship with a Motion to Withdraw filed in court.
Documentation of Termination
No matter how the relationship ends, an attorney is wise to write and send a concluding letter which documents that the client should expect no further services from the attorney. The letter should confirm that if the client seeks further representation, the attorney must first agree to that representation. It also should indicate how long the attorney will keep documents related to the case and how the client can collect those documents before they are destroyed. Any remaining balance due and terms of payment should also be addressed in the concluding letter.
In representation where there is active litigation, Texas Rule of Civil Procedure 10 outlines the attorney’s obligations. The motion must be in writing and delivered to the client, indicating the attorney’s reason(s) for terminating service. The motion should also indicate whether or not the client agrees with the termination of services. The attorney must notify the client of all scheduled settings and deadlines. Only when the motion is granted is the attorney-client relationship officially terminated. The complete text of Rule 10 of the Texas Rules of Civil Procedure follows:
Rule 10. Withdrawal of Attorney
An attorney may withdraw from representing a party only upon written motion for good cause shown. If another attorney is to be substituted as attorney for the party, the motion shall state: the name, address, telephone number, telecopier number, if any, and State Bar of Texas identification number of the substitute attorney; that the party approves the substitution; and that the withdrawal is not sought for delay only. If another attorney is not to be substituted as attorney for the party, the motion shall state: that a copy of the motion has been delivered to the party; that the party has been notified in writing of his right to object to the motion; whether the party consents to the motion; the party's last known address and all pending settings and deadlines. If the motion is granted, the withdrawing attorney shall immediately notify the party in writing of any additional settings or deadlines of which the attorney has knowledge at the time of the withdrawal and has not already notified the party. The Court may impose further conditions upon granting leave to withdraw. Notice or delivery to a party shall be either made to the party in person or mailed to the party's last known address by both certified and regular first class mail. If the attorney in charge withdraws and another attorney remains or becomes substituted, another attorney in charge must be designated of record with notice to all other parties in accordance with Rule 21a.
A good relationship between attorney and client is critical to its success. When the relationship is not sustainable, however, Texas law provides protocols for exiting the relationship while at the same time protecting the rights of both attorney and client.
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