So, you want to withdraw because your client hasn’t paid. There’s a rule for that: Rule 1.16.
Specifically, Rule 1.16(b)(5) permits withdrawal when:
- “the client fails substantially to fulfill an obligation to the lawyer regarding the lawyer’s services and has been given reasonable warning that the lawyer will withdraw unless the obligation is fulfilled.”
Per Comment 8, this includes a client’s failure to abide by the terms of a fee agreement.
This is where disco comes in.
As I was driving to work this morning, Thelma Houston’s version of Don’t Leave Me This Way came on the radio. I admit: it caused me to dance in the driver’s seat as I carpool-karaoked south on 89.
But the chorus provides a great lesson: when you withdraw, don’t violate a client’s confidences on your way out. A client’s failure to abide by the terms of a fee agreement does not relieve a lawyer of his or her obligations under Rule 1.6, the rule that prohibits disclosure of information relating to a representation.
Last December, the ABA’s Standing Committee on Ethics & Professional Responsibility issued Formal Opinion 476: Confidentiality Issues when Moving to Withdraw for Nonpayment of Fees in Civil Litigation. In an excellent article on the advisory opinion, the ABA Journal warned that Lawyers should tread carefully before quitting a troublesome client.
Don’t leave your clients pleading for you not to leave them this way.