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From time to time, lawyers have to (or want to) end their representation of particular clients. Some clients are engaged in misconduct from which lawyers seek to dissociate themselves. Some clients create conflicts that prevent other, more lucrative work. Some clients fail to pay their fees. Some clients are simply impossible to work with. And sometimes lawyers just get in over their heads or beyond their competence. But while a client can always fire a lawyer, lawyers must comply with a range of ethical obligations before they can fire their clients. Failure to comply with those obligations can expose lawyers to loss of fees, professional discipline and malpractice liability.
Normally, I don’t even bother to read my emails anymore. I have close to 15,000 unopened emails and the situation has gotten so out of hand that I am seriously thinking it might be easier to just annul this email account and start fresh. Most of it is spam, but some of it might actually be important…..The above quote was in one of the emails I happened to open today. It is from some company trying to sell CLE courses and I think I am all set with that for at least another year but I read it in part and it gave me the idea for this post: Can you FIRE your client? Are divorce lawyers allowed to do that? And on what basis? Well, I think the basis are usually going to be the same for divorce lawyers as others. The problem is convincing a court to let you out.
In New York, anyway, it is not so easy to get off of a divorce and family law case. It doesn’t matter if the client is not paying you or if you have a conflict with a more “lucrative” client (possiby the very worse reason ou can give) or any of the reasons cited above. (Matrimonial cases are given this extra level of courtesy by judges — as far as attorney withdrawals are concerned anyway. As far as courtesy, that is a whole other matter. I have seen some criminal defendants get more respect from courts than some divorce and family law parties and their counsels.)
But yea. Can you fire the client? Yes but you have to be very diplomatic and creative in how you ask to be relieved. And some judges are tougher than others to convince. The worse rationale you can possibly give the court is that you are not getting paid by the client. There is this overriding worldview in society and some segments of the legal profession that lawyers are rich and they should not get paid for their work – and that, frankly, their work is not worth what they ask for it. Maybe this is true, I don’t know. But what is the question? The question is whether you can fire the client. ….
I say….just forget it. Keep the client. When will you get another one? Besides: any client – even a nonpaying one – is better than no client. Trust me. And you know what? Maybe on your 5th trip to court to represent this nonpaying client (because the judge won’t let you off the case) you might get retained by a new client who invariably will meet you in the corridor and who is invariably desperate for legal representation. Don’t even bother signing a retainer with this one. It won’t end well.