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Bell/Gaerte: 3 things to know about withdrawing from a case

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Bell Gaerte 3 thingsUnfortunately, there comes a time in some attorney-client relationships when breakup is inevitable. You may have tried to “work things out” with your client, but things only got worse. So what do you do?

You could try telling your client that “it’s not you, it’s me,” even if deep down you know that “it’s not you, it’s your client.” The reality is that you have lost whatever spark there was at the beginning of the case, and you and your client don’t see the case the same way anymore. Worst of all, you don’t share the same goals. You feel your passion for the case slipping away. Oh – there is one other thing. There is that little problem with money: You haven’t received any.

At the risk of sounding like Dr. Phil, it sounds like you need to “move on” and “let go.” But before you do, grab Rule 1.16 of the Indiana Rules of Professional Conduct and make certain you are withdrawing from the case ethically.

Here are three things to know about withdrawing from a case:

1. There are times when you must terminate the attorney-client relationship

Whether you want to or not, and regardless of what Dr. Phil advises, there are situations when you must break up with your client. These situations are outlined in Rule 1.16(a) of the Indiana Rules of Professional Conduct. These include times when the “representation will result in a violation of the Rules of Professional Conduct or other law,” “the lawyer’s physical or mental condition materially impairs the lawyer’s ability to represent the client” or “the lawyer is discharged.” For example, if your representation of the client will result in your assisting a client in fraud, then under Rule 1.16(a)(1), you must withdraw from the case.

2. When withdrawing, do not make the client’s situation worse

Rule 1.16(b)(1) states that a lawyer may withdraw from representing a client if “withdrawal can be accomplished without material adverse effect on the interest of the client.” What does that mean? That means you likely will not be able to withdraw from a case that is set for trial in a week. Furthermore, it also means that under Rule 1.6, you shall not reveal confidential information relating to the case.

If the reason for withdrawing is that your client has not paid you, state in your motion to withdraw that the “client has not fulfilled his obligations to the undersigned.” Do not say, “The client lied to me about his willingness to pay my fees and I am upside down to the tune of $30,000.” If the reason for withdrawing is that, pursuant to Rule 1.16(b)(4), the “client insists upon taking action that the lawyer considers repugnant or with which the lawyer has a fundamental disagreement,” place in your motion something like “there has been a breakdown in the attorney-client relationship.” It likely would have a materially adverse effect on the client to state something along the lines of, “My client insists that I present a conspiracy theory to the court, accuse the judge of criminal activity and otherwise impugn the impartiality of the tribunal.”

3. In formal litigation, the court has the final say on the breakup

Rule 1.16(c) states that “a lawyer must comply with applicable law requiring notice to or permission of a tribunal when terminating a representation.” That means that the attorney must check the court’s local rules prior to filing the motion to withdraw. Some rules require advance written notice to clients and that notice can include advice regarding the securing of new counsel, as well as notice of upcoming court dates.

Finally, Rule 1.16(c) states that “[w]hen ordered to do so by a tribunal, a lawyer shall continue representation notwithstanding good cause for terminating the representation.” In other words, the breakup is not always the lawyer’s call. In many cases, a judge must approve a lawyer’s termination of representation. Oftentimes, the longer a lawyer is in a case, the less likely it is that a judge will allow the lawyer to withdraw. When the attorney-client relationship begins, look for signs that “things weren’t meant to be.” If the case goes on too long, not only will breaking up be hard to do, but it maybe impossible.•

__________

James J. Bell and K. Michael Gaerte are attorneys with Bingham Greenebaum Doll LLP. They assist lawyers and judges with professional liability and legal ethics issues. They also practice in criminal defense and are regular speakers on criminal defense and ethics topics. They can be reached at jbell@bgdlegal.com or mgaerte@bgdlegal.com. The opinions expressed are those of the authors.

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  1. So that none are misinformed by my posting wihtout a non de plume here, please allow me to state that I am NOT an Indiana licensed attorney, although I am an Indiana resident approved to practice law and represent clients in Indiana's fed court of Nth Dist and before the 7th circuit. I remain licensed in KS, since 1996, no discipline. This must be clarified since the IN court records will reveal that I did sit for and pass the Indiana bar last February. Yet be not confused by the fact that I was so allowed to be tested .... I am not, to be clear in the service of my duty to be absolutely candid about this, I AM NOT a member of the Indiana bar, and might never be so licensed given my unrepented from errors of thought documented in this opinion, at fn2, which likely supports Mr Smith's initial post in this thread: http://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-7th-circuit/1592921.html

  2. When I served the State of Kansas as Deputy AG over Consumer Protection & Antitrust for four years, supervising 20 special agents and assistant attorneys general (back before the IBLE denied me the right to practice law in Indiana for not having the right stuff and pretty much crushed my legal career) we had a saying around the office: Resist the lure of the ring!!! It was a take off on Tolkiem, the idea that absolute power (I signed investigative subpoenas as a judge would in many other contexts, no need to show probable cause)could corrupt absolutely. We feared that we would overreach constitutional limits if not reminded, over and over, to be mindful to not do so. Our approach in so challenging one another was Madisonian, as the following quotes from the Father of our Constitution reveal: The essence of Government is power; and power, lodged as it must be in human hands, will ever be liable to abuse. We are right to take alarm at the first experiment upon our liberties. I believe there are more instances of the abridgement of freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments by those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations. Liberty may be endangered by the abuse of liberty, but also by the abuse of power. All men having power ought to be mistrusted. -- James Madison, Federalist Papers and other sources: http://www.constitution.org/jm/jm_quotes.htm RESIST THE LURE OF THE RING ALL YE WITH POLITICAL OR JUDICIAL POWER!

  3. My dear Mr Smith, I respect your opinions and much enjoy your posts here. We do differ on our view of the benefits and viability of the American Experiment in Ordered Liberty. While I do agree that it could be better, and that your points in criticism are well taken, Utopia does indeed mean nowhere. I think Madison, Jefferson, Adams and company got it about as good as it gets in a fallen post-Enlightenment social order. That said, a constitution only protects the citizens if it is followed. We currently have a bevy of public officials and judicial agents who believe that their subjectivism, their personal ideology, their elitist fears and concerns and cause celebs trump the constitutions of our forefathers. This is most troubling. More to follow in the next post on that subject.

  4. Yep I am not Bryan Brown. Bryan you appear to be a bigger believer in the Constitution than I am. Were I still a big believer then I might be using my real name like you. Personally, I am no longer a fan of secularism. I favor the confessional state. In religious mattes, it seems to me that social diversity is chaos and conflict, while uniformity is order and peace.... secularism has been imposed by America on other nations now by force and that has not exactly worked out very well.... I think the American historical experiment with disestablishmentarianism is withering on the vine before our eyes..... Since I do not know if that is OK for an officially licensed lawyer to say, I keep the nom de plume.

  5. I am compelled to announce that I am not posting under any Smith monikers here. That said, the post below does have a certain ring to it that sounds familiar to me: http://www.catholicnewworld.com/cnwonline/2014/0907/cardinal.aspx

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