Ending the Lawyer-Client Relationship (Part 2)

Termination by the client

Your client may terminate the retainer without cause.  If a client terminates the retainer, you must continue to respond to their communication and to be courteous. Some continuing communication will be required, including that necessary to transfer the file, refund money, or collect remaining fees and disbursements.
If your client terminates the retainer, you should do the following:
  • Determine whether or not the client is retaining new counsel.
  • Prepare a final bill for the client in order to settle accounts (whether the client owes you money, or you are required to refund money to the client).
  • Remind the client of limitations or deadlines that might affect the client’s legal rights or obligations.
  • Suggest that the client instruct new counsel.
  • Arrange for the transfer of the client’s property to the client or his or her new counsel.
  • Ensure that you are formally removed as solicitor of record on the file, if applicable.
  • Confirm your communications in writing.
If you were engaged in a contingent fee agreement terminated by the client, try to arrange with the client’s new counsel for payment of your disbursements, and secure payment of your fees for when the matter settles. Review the case law dealing with a lawyer’s right to quantum meruit payment in circumstances where the client terminates a contingent fee agreement.

Termination by you

Rules 3.7-8 and 3.7-9 of the Code of Conduct specify the minimum steps that must be taken when a lawyer withdraws from a file, or is discharged. If you withdraw from a retainer, ensure you follow these provisions. Giving the client reasonable notice is important – it allows the client time to make alternate arrangements for representation, and reduces the chance that the client will feel abandoned. By following the specified procedures you can make it clear that the lawyer-client relationship has ended.
Remind the client of important dates (for example, limitation dates, trial, and examinations for discovery). If you have already provided the client with timelines and an explanation of the process, you will simply confirm what you have already explained. If you have not provided the client with a roadmap, advise the client of these matters so that the client can take proper steps to protect his or her rights, or meet obligations.