Informal Opinion Number: 2020-09

Adoption Date: 2020

Rules: 4-1.16; 4-1.22
Client-Lawyer Relationship
Declining or Terminating Representation
File Retention
Subject: Client Files; Withdrawal from Representation
Summary: format for return of client file when file is maintained electronically

Attorney stores client files electronically. In what format should Attorney provide the client file to Client upon request?

ANSWER: The client file belongs to the client. Formal Opinion 115, as amended; In the Matter of Cupples, 952 S.W.2d 226, 234 (Mo. banc 1997). If a client requests an electronically maintained file during the file retention period, Formal Opinion 127 requires the file be “provided to the client in a manner in which the client will be able to access it using commonly used, relatively inexpensive, software and hardware . . . . Alternatively, the attorney may provide the file to the client in paper format, unless that is contrary to an agreement between the attorney and client.” Upon termination of representation, Rule 4-1.16(d) requires a lawyer to take steps to the extent reasonably practicable to protect the client’s interests, including surrendering papers and property to which the client is entitled. If Client has requested the file in a particular format, Attorney should prioritize protection of Client’s interests and take all reasonably practicable steps to accommodate Client’s format request.

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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