Lawyer-client relationships sometimes end earlier than the lawyer and client anticipated at the start of the representation. A lawyer’s withdrawal from representation is not always agreed upon by the client and may also be under touchy circumstances, such as dishonesty of the client or non-payment of fees owed to the lawyer. Further, a client may fire a lawyer at any time, for good or bad reasons. A lawyer faced with such situations must uphold the lawyer’s ethical responsibilities to the client despite that the representation is at, near, or has reached an end. Client confidentiality must be protected unless the ethical rules specifically allow disclosure, and any disclosures must be made as narrowly as possible. If, in a court setting, the tribunal does not allow the withdrawal, the lawyer can seek relief from a higher court, but must protect the client’s interests and competently represent the client until and unless an order for withdrawal is granted. A withdrawing lawyer must advise the client and new counsel of pending court dates, status of the case, and anything else necessary and appropriate for the smooth transfer of the representation. Any fees charged to the client for withdrawal-related work must be reasonable. Of course, the client is entitled to the client file consistent with Ethics Opinion No. EO-19-0009, regardless of the circumstances for the withdrawal.
Though Fearnow v. Ridenour, Swenson, Cleer & Evans, 213 Ariz. 24 (2006) made it clear that ER 5.6 does not categorically prohibit all agreements imposing financial disincentives on a departing lawyer who continues to practice in competition with their previous firm, imposing a per-client fee on a departing associate directly interferes with client choice and is prohibited. This Opinion supersedes State Bar of Arizona Ethics Opinion 09-01.
Lawyers must retain sufficient information regarding the work they have done on a matter to permit the client to understand what was done for them and to permit a subsequent lawyer to take up the matter if the lawyer is discharged, withdraws, or is unable to continue the representation for other reasons such as death, disability, or discipline. This obligation informs the lawyers’ obligations concerning what materials they keep, how they store and organize those materials, and what they do with records at the end of a representation.
Lawyers are ethically obligated, upon a client’s request at the conclusion of representation, to provide the client with the client’s documents and all documents reflecting work performed for the client. This obligation does not require the lawyer to retain paper or electronic documents generated or received in the course of the representation, that are duplicative of other documents generated or received in the course of the representation, incidental to the representation, or not typically maintained by a working lawyer, unless the lawyer has reason to believe that, in all the circumstances, the client’s interests require that these documents be preserved for eventual turning over to the client at the conclusion of the representation. Understanding the lawyer’s duty to preserve client documents in this manner advances client interests. It enables a lawyer to restrict “the file” to documents that actually assist the lawyer in competently and diligently representing the client, in the context of the particular client matter and the lawyer’s practice, as well as effectively communicating with the client and exercising professional judgment on the client’s behalf, rather than preserving anything and everything ever generated or received during the course of the representation. To the extent prior opinions of this Committee may be construed as asserting otherwise, they are withdrawn.
See also EO-19-0009
In the extreme circumstances in which a lawyer is reasonably concerned that by providing a tangible copy of certain documents to an incarcerated client, the safety of the client or a third person may be jeopardized, the lawyer may ethically retain the documents and refuse to allow the incarcerated client to possess the documents during the representation. The lawyer must still fully inform the client as to the contents of the documents, discuss information contained in the documents with the client, and explain the lawyer’s rationale for wanting to retain possession of the documents. If the client cannot be persuaded to allow the lawyer to retain physical possession of the documents, the lawyer may ethically retain possession of the documents to protect the client’s safety or the safety of a third person, over the client’s objection.
Whether an Internet marketing voucher or coupon sold by a lawyer for legal representation is consistent with the Arizona Rules of Professional Conduct will depend on the terms and conditions of the voucher or coupon sold as well as the other facts and circumstances. Absent specific terms and conditions, however, it is unlikely that an Arizona lawyer can ethically use Internet marketing voucher- or coupon-based legal services due to a panoply of ethical concerns arising under Ethical Rules (ERs) 1.1, 1.2, 1.6, 1.7, 1.9, 1.15, 1.16, 1.18, 5.4, 7.1, and 7.2.
Provided that the overall fee is reasonable, it is ethically permissible to charge a minimum fee that may be designated “earned upon receipt” or “non-refundable” with the language required by ER 1.5(d), for a specified number of hours or through completion of the matter, whichever occurs first, and also to include a provision that, under certain reasonably defined changed circumstances, the lawyer reserves the right to charge the client on an hourly basis for the remainder of the matter.
When a lawyer’s employment with a firm is terminated, both the firm and the departing lawyer have ethical obligations to notify affected clients, avoid prejudice to those clients, and share information as necessary to facilitate continued representation and avoid conflicts. These ethical obligations can best be satisfied through cooperation and planning for any departure.
Lawyer-client relationships sometimes end earlier than the lawyer and client anticipated at the start of the representation. A lawyer’s withdrawal from representation is not always agreed upon by the client and may also be under touchy circumstances, such as dishonesty of the client or non-payment of fees owed to the lawyer. Further, a client may fire a lawyer at any time, for good or bad reasons. A lawyer faced with such situations must uphold the lawyer’s ethical responsibilities to the client despite that the representation is at, near, or has reached an end. Client confidentiality must be protected unless the ethical rules specifically allow disclosure, and any disclosures must be made as narrowly as possible. If, in a court setting, the tribunal does not allow the withdrawal, the lawyer can seek relief from a higher court, but must protect the client’s interests and competently represent the client until and unless an order for withdrawal is granted. A withdrawing lawyer must advise the client and new counsel of pending court dates, status of the case, and anything else necessary and appropriate for the smooth transfer of the representation. Any fees charged to the client for withdrawal-related work must be reasonable. Of course, the client is entitled to the client file regardless of the circumstances for the withdrawal.
Updated by EO-20-0001
A law firm may not employ associate lawyers using a contract that requires a departing associate to pay $3,500 to the law firm for each instance in which the departing associate continued to represent a law firm client. This requirement would violate the policy underlying ER 5.6 that puts the commercial interests of law firms secondary to the need to preserve client choice.
Superseded by EO-19-0006
OPINION PARTIALLY WITHDRAWN; SEE OPINION 15-02
Lawyers have certain ethical obligations in maintaining closed client files. Clients are entitled to most of the contents of a closed file. Lawyers should establish a file-retention policy and communicate that policy to the client, in writing, at the commencement of the lawyer/client relationship. If a lawyer does not have a file-retention policy, the lawyer will have additional ethical obligations to fulfill prior to the destruction of any closed client file.
In appropriate cases, a lawyer may keep current and closed client files as electronic images in an attempt to maintain a paperless law practice or to more economically store files.
After digitizing paper documents, a lawyer may not, without client consent, destroy original paper documents that belong to or were obtained from the client. After digitizing paper documents, a lawyer may destroy copies of paper documents that were obtained from the client unless the lawyer has reason to know that the client wants the lawyer to retain them. A lawyer has the discretion to decide whether to maintain the balance of the file solely as electronic images and destroy the paper documents.
An attorney may not assert a retaining lien against any items in a client’s file that would prejudice the client’s rights. While an attorney may withhold internal practice management memoranda that does not reflect work done on the client’s behalf, the burden is on the attorney claiming the lien to identify with specificity any other documents or materials in the file which the attorney asserts are subject to the retaining lien, and which would not prejudice the client’s interests if withheld from the client.
A claimant's attorney may not ethically enter into any settlement agreement that would require the attorney to indemnify or hold the Releasee harmless from any lien claims against the settlement proceeds.
Where an Arizona lawyer is asked to assist a non-lawyer in collecting a fee for services that the lawyer believes constitute the unauthorized practice of law ("UPL"), the lawyer may not assist the non-lawyer in drafting or seeking to enforce a contingent fee agreement for services rendered. Nor may a lawyer honor a claim asserted against the lawyer's client for a contingent interest in litigation as compensation for services that constitute UPL.
When a client moves and fails to communicate with his lawyer, the lawyer may withdraw from the representation if the lawyer uses reasonable efforts to: 1) locate the client to inform him of the withdrawal; and 2) protect the client's interests upon withdrawal, including maintaining client confidences and safeguarding client property. [ERs 1.4, 1.6, 1.15, 1.16(b)]
This Opinion discusses a lawyer's ethical obligations not to use information obtained by a client in a civil case from documents copied from the records of a potentially adverse party that contain privileged or otherwise confidential information without the consent of opposing counsel or court order. The lawyer also must advise the client to refrain from obtaining other privileged documents and notify opposing counsel of the receipt of the information. [ERs 1.2, 1.6, 1.16, 3.4, 4.1, 4.4, 8.4]
CAUTIONARY NOTE: This Opinion relied on ABA Formal Opinions 92-368 and 94-382, which have since been withdrawn. See also ER 4.4(b), added in 2003.
It is unethical for an attorney representing a client in pending litigation to file a lawsuit against that client, while the representation is continuing, for the collection of attorney's fees and unpaid costs. [ERs 1.6(d), 1.7, 1.16(a)]
A non-refundable fee is ethical if reasonable under E.R. 1.5. A client must be fully informed about and expressly agree to such a fee, preferably in writing. Non-refundable fees are earned upon receipt and do not go into a lawyer's trust account. [ER 1.4 (b), 1.5, 1.15, 1.16 (d)]
This opinion addresses an attorney’s obligations to a third party who claims an interest in funds. [ER 1.15]
This opinion discusses an attorneys responsibilities for a client's file after termination of representation. [ERs 1.4, 1.15, 1.16]
A public defender must withdraw from representation of a criminal defendant who has a "colorable" claim of ineffective assistance of counsel against another member of the public defender's office. The timing of the withdrawal will depend upon the facts of each individual case. [ERs 1.7, 1.10. 1.16]
This opinion discusses the conflict of interest issues and fee issues when a law firm initially represents both a driver and passenger in a personal injury case against another driver and eventually the firm refers out the passenger for separate representation. There is a non-waivable conflict if the firm continues to represent the driver, yet has an interest in recovering a portion of the fees retrieved by the passenger. [ERs 1.5, 1.7, 1.8, 1.9, 1.16]
Attorney's proposed contingent-fee agreement violates Rules as to: 1) limiting client's right to discharge attorney; 2) attorney's right to withdraw unilaterally; 3) attorney's overbroad authority; 4) method of calculating fee; and 5) attorney's withholding client files after termination of representation.
Where attorney, at the conclusion of representation, returns to the client all original documents and any other document from the file which belong to the client, it is not ethically improper for the attorney to charge the client for the expense of making additional copies of the file at the client's request.
Sole practitioner proposes to turn over his law practice to a law firm while he goes on a one-year leave of absence. Discussion of whether a law practice has a salable goodwill. (Invalidated by Op. 06-01)
Obligation of an attorney in possession of his client's file to turn over documents, where a dispute has arisen between the client and the client's former attorney and both are claiming an interest in documents in the file.
Attorney may apply court-awarded attorney's fees and costs to the balance owed him if client is not responding to repeated telephone calls and letters.
Release, preservation or destruction of clients' financial and business documents when client cannot be located.
Responsibilities of attorney representing worker's compensation claimant, when checks from compensation insurer in payment of client's award are in an amount larger than the client is entitled to receive under the compensation law, and client instructs him not to reveal the apparent mistake to the insurer.
Attorney must exercise independent professional judgment where he has secured and recorded a money judgment, the judgment debtor requests attorney to accept payment and enter satisfaction thereof but client cannot be located to obtain instructions.
Ethical obligations of Public Defender and individual attorneys in his office who are carrying unduly high annual caseloads.
It is ethically proper for a lawyer or law firm to accept credit cards for the payment of legal fees and retainers. The acceptance of credit cards does not infringe upon the confidential nature of communications between an attorney and a client, nor does it represent a conflict of interest or an interference with the attorney's professional independence. The lawyer and the client must enter into an agreement as to which party will bear the lender’s discount; the client must fully understand the terms of this agreement.
Necessity of lawyer withdrawing from representation of client who lawyer knows has obtained information by means of surreptitious tape recording. Attorney making use of such information.
Potential conflict of interest exists between seeking the office of County Attorney and representing a criminal defendant.
The juvenile public defender who learns that conversations between attorneys and detainers at the juvenile detention facility are monitored by detention staff personnel has an ethical duty to represent the juvenile the same as any other client. That duty extends to protecting the juveniles right to effective counsel, which includes privileged communications.
Competent and diligent legal representation applicable to part-time city prosecutor regardless of caseload resulting under the contract.
Attorney appointed by juvenile court encountering problems in his attempted representation of client due to minor's parents intervention and minor's lack of cooperation.