Informal Opinion Number: 2019-03

Adoption Date: 2019

Rules: 4-1.4; 4-1.15; 4-1.16; 4-1.22; 4-8.4
Client-Lawyer Relationship
File Retention
Maintaining the Integrity of the Profession
Subject: Client Files; Leaving a Law Firm
Summary: disposition of client file when lawyer leaves a law firm

An attorney is leaving a law firm. The departing attorney has been the lead attorney or assisted another attorney at the firm in a number of client matters. What should the firm’s remaining attorneys do with the files for those clients?

Answer: The file for each client matter belongs to the client, except for those items in the file for which the firm has borne uncompensated out-of-pocket expenses, such as, but not limited to, transcripts. Formal Opinion 115, as amended. Even if the attorney or firm has not been paid for services rendered, a firm or lawyer must comply with a client’s direction to transmit the file to the departing attorney or new counsel. A client who is notified of the departure of that client’s attorney should be informed that the client file will continue to be housed at the firm until and unless the client communicates his or her wishes as to the disposition of the file. The client file should not be removed or copied by the departing attorney unless the client so directs.

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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