Informal Opinion Number: 20030049

Rules: 4-1.16; 4-1.1
Client-Lawyer Relationship

Declining or Terminating Representation

Summary: withdrawal occasioned by lawyer’s departure

QUESTION: Attorney’s law firm recently lost the attorneys in its litigation department and those attorneys are not able to continue to handle the litigation.Before leaving, one of the attorneys won a trial on a personal injury case. The case was reversed and remanded for new trial. Attorney’s firm does not have anyone who can represent this client adequately. Attorney’s firm has been unsuccessful in securing other counsel for the client. The case is not on a trial docket. May Attorney’s firm withdraw under these circumstances?
ANSWER: It is permissible for Attorney’s firm to seek to withdraw, if you the firm can do so at a time that will not be materially adverse to the client. Whether a case is on a trial docket would be one factor in determining whether withdrawal, at a given time, will be materially adverse. However, there could be other factors to consider, such as discovery, court orders, etc. If there are no factors that will cause withdrawal to be materially adverse to the client, Attorney’s firm may seek to withdraw, notwithstanding the fact that the client has been unable to find other counsel.
Whether Attorney’s firm is permitted to withdraw is entirely in the discretion of the court. If the court refuses to allow withdrawal, under Rule 4-1.16(c), Attorney’s firm must stay in the case and represent the client. Attorney’s firm should be sure to inform the court of its concerns about its ability to adequately represent the client, in the course of seeking leave to withdraw.

Informal Opinions are ethics advisory opinions issued by the Office of Legal Ethics Counsel to members of the Bar about Rule 4 (Rules of Professional Conduct), Rule 5 (Complaints and Proceedings Thereon), and Rule 6 (Fees to Practice Law) pursuant to Missouri Supreme Court Rule 5.30(c). Written summaries of select Informal Opinions are published for informational purposes as determined by the Advisory Committee of the Supreme Court of Missouri pursuant to Rule 5.30(c). Informal opinion summaries are advisory in nature and are not binding. These opinions are published as an educational service and do not constitute legal advice.

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