Informal Opinion Number: 2020-04

Adoption Date: 2020

Rules: 4-1.4
Client-Lawyer Relationship
Communication
Subject: Communication with Clients; Leaving a Law Firm
Summary: notice to current clients for whom lawyer provided material representation


QUESTION
: To which clients must Attorney and Attorney’s law firm provide notice of Attorney’s departure from the firm, and what information should the notice include?

ANSWER: All current clients for whom Attorney has provided material representation should be notified promptly of Attorney’s departure from the firm in a professional manner consistent with the opinion of the Supreme Court of Missouri in In the Matter of Cupples, 952 S.W.2d 226 (Mo. banc 1997). Notice should be timed to serve the client’s best interest rather than the interests of the departing lawyer or firm. Ideally, the communication will be in writing, issued jointly by Attorney and the firm. Informal Opinion 950184. If circumstances will not allow for joint notice, both the firm and Attorney are obligated to ensure clients receive proper notice. Informal Opinion 970197; In the Matter of Cupples, 952 S.W.2d at 235-236. The firm and Attorney are not required to send a notification letter to Attorney’s former clients. Whether Attorney has a current client-lawyer relationship with a client or former client is a question of fact and law outside the scope of an informal advisory opinion. See Rule 4, Scope, at [17]. The communication should seek the client’s informed direction as to whether the client wishes to be represented in the matter by Attorney, the law firm, or new counsel of the client’s choosing. If Attorney or the firm is unable or unwilling to continue the representation, the client should be so informed, and the remaining available options for representation should be offered to the client. Informal Opinion 950184. Clients should be notified of the expected date of the departure and Attorney’s new contact information, if applicable. The communication should explain who will be handling the client’s matter until the client affirmatively communicates the client’s choice of counsel. The notice should explain that a client’s original file will remain with the firm until or unless the client elects to be represented by Attorney or new counsel. Informal Opinion 2019-03. Attorney and the firm may choose to explain to the client that if the client wishes to be represented by Attorney or new counsel, funds in the trust account will be refunded to the client or transferred per the client’s direction. The notice may also instruct clients as to whom the client should pay any balance due for fees or expenses.

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.

To request an Informal Opinion, please visit: https://mo-legal-ethics.org/for lawyers/requesting-an-informal-advisory-opinion/.

© Copyright 2023