What They Didn’t Teach You in Law School #12: How to Fire Your Client

Last week, I talked about problem clients and ways that these clients can take a toll on your life and your law firm’s bottom line. In addition, I went over a few of the characteristics of problem clients and the telltale signs that it may be time to cut them loose. This week, I want to talk to you about the right way to terminate representation with a problem client:

  • Avoid the urge to give your problem client a piece of your mind. Instead, terminate services in a delicate and polite manner. This is not the time to list your client’s faults; this is the time to rid yourself of a bad client.
  • Help the client move on. Refund fees, organize the client’s file and make yourself available to the next lawyer. By making it easy for the client to move on to a new attorney, you will keep the client calm and avoid further conflicts or malpractice claims down the road.
  • Follow the rules. Rule 1.16(b) of the Model Rules of Professional Conduct has been adopted by most jurisdictions. These rules allow a lawyer to withdraw from representation if (1) withdrawal can be accomplished without material adverse effect on the interests of the client; (2) the client persists in a course of action involving the lawyer's services that the lawyer reasonably believes is criminal or fraudulent; (3) the client has used the lawyer's services to perpetrate a crime or fraud; (4) the client insists upon taking action that the lawyer considers repugnant or with which the lawyer has a fundamental disagreement; (5) the client fails substantially to fulfill an obligation to the lawyer regarding the lawyer's services and has been given reasonable warning that the lawyer will withdraw unless the obligation is fulfilled; (6) the representation will result in an unreasonable financial burden on the lawyer or has been rendered unreasonably difficult by the client; or (7) other good cause for withdrawal exists.
  • Don’t wait too long to withdraw representation. If you wait too long, you and your client will have invested a lot of time and money in the representation, and it will be difficult to terminate the attorney-client relationship on amiable terms. In addition, the longer the attorney-client relationship lasts, the more likely it will be difficult to withdraw without material adverse effect on the interests of the client.