It sometimes happens. You and your lawyer are not getting along and have not been for some time. And you have decided that you can no longer putt off the inevitable. You have decided that now is the time to end the relationship.
Perhaps the real cause of the break-up is as it is with most breakups – money (i.e., your lawyer’s extravagances) or lack of attention (i.e., to your files). Or perhaps you have been attracted to a new law firm. Whatever the reason, you decide that rather than continuing with the present relationship, it is time to break off that relationship and move on. You only want what is rightfully yours (the files) and you are willing to pay what you rightfully owe. Simple enough, right?
Unfortunately, as with a personal relations break-up, break-ups between lawyers and their clients often are not always simple. In my role counseling attorneys on my state’s legal ethics hotline, I get a number of questions each year from attorneys on issues that can arise as a result of break-ups between attorneys and their clients.
In addition to generating bad feelings, disputes often arise over what additional fees are due the former lawyer after notice to transfer the file(s) and who pays the costs for transferring the files. Disputes can even arise over what constitute the “file.”
Fortunately, case law and the ethics of the legal profession do offer clear guidance on some of the basics involved in transferring files from one lawyer to another. But as the old saying goes, the devil is in the details.
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