When an Attorney Must or May Withdraw Mid-Case

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As the client, you have an almost absolute right to hire and fire your attorneys for any reason you choose (or for no reason whatsoever). Your attorney, on the other hand, cannot "fire" you as a client at whim; he must have a valid reason. The exact rules that govern attorneys vary from state to state, but in general, an attorney is required to withdraw from a case in the following situations:

  • If, by representing the client, the lawyer will be violating the law or the rules of professional conduct (such as if the lawyer is suspended from practicing law by the local attorney disciplinary committee).
  • If the lawyer is physically or mentally incapable of representing the client.
  • If the client terminates his relationship with the attorney.

    Otherwise, an attorney may withdraw from a case only for valid reasons, and only if it is shown that the client's interests won't be adversely effected. Valid reasons include:

  • Conflicts of interest: Attorneys and their firms are not permitted to represent people or companies that are adversaries. In some circumstances, the lawyer may ask for permission (called a conflict waiver) from each party acknowledging the conflict and allowing the attorney to represent both of each. If, after the attorney has agreed to represent you, he learns that he or his firm also represents another person or company that is your adversary, and if the attorney can't get a conflict waiver from both you and your adversary, then the lawyer must stop representing you.
  • Client consent: If you give your attorney permission to withdraw from the case, then the attorney can stop representing you.
  • Differing case strategies: Sometimes lawyer and client won't agree on the best approach for handling a case. If you and your attorney are unable to reach agreement, then the attorney should withdraw.
  • A client's failure to cooperate, communicate, or fulfill obligations: In order for an attorney to provide quality service to his client, there needs to be regular communication and interaction between the attorney and client. Your attorney may need you to answer questions, provide documentation and otherwise assist him so that he can give the service that you need and deserve. If, as a client, you fail to respond to your attorney's legitimate requests, then he cannot provide you with quality representation, and may be permitted to withdraw from your case.
  • Personality conflicts: It's human nature that sometimes people just can't get along with one another. Your attorney is supposed to be your best advocate, but if there's a conflict of personalities, it may be impossible for your attorney to give you the best representation possible.
  • A client's failure to pay attorneys fees: As the client, you may have signed a contract when you hired your attorney, and that contract probably outlined the anticipated cost of your legal work, and your obligation to pay your attorney. You are hiring an attorney to perform a service, and if you fail to pay for those services, then the attorney usually has the right to stop working on your behalf. (This is true even if you don't have a signed contract.)
  • A client's unethical, fraudulent, or criminal activity: Your lawyer is bound by certain professional and ethical obligations. As part of those obligations, your lawyer cannot help you commit unethical, fraudulent or criminal activities. If your attorney tells you that you're trying to do something illegal and you don't take his advice, the attorney can stop representing you.
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