Can my attorney refuse representation in the middle of a case because of money owed? 52 Answers as of June 09, 2013

I have paid my attorney over $5,000 over the course of 2 years to represent me in a case of contempt filed against my ex-husband. My current balance is $4,100 and my attorney is refusing to do any more work for me until it is paid. My credit and financial well being are already at risk. This is why I am filing contempt to begin with, we are also asking the judge to award attorney fees. Now my attorney is refusing to continue to represent my best interest because of money owed to the firm.

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Law Office of Peter F. Goldscheider
Law Office of Peter F. Goldscheider | Peter Goldscheider
If you breach your part of the retainer agreement by not paying the retainer as promised, the attorney has a right to move to withdraw from your case. Until he does so however he has no right to stop working on the case.
Answer Applies to: California
Replied: 9/29/2011
Cornish, Crowley, Rockafellow, & Sartz, PLLC
Cornish, Crowley, Rockafellow, & Sartz, PLLC | Jacob Peter Sartz IV
Ultimately, if you have a breakdown like this, it may be best to terminate the attorney-client relationship. These situations may escalate and possibly harm both parties. Judges, generally, will agree to allow an attorney to withdraw from cases in disputes over money because it means that their relationship has broken down. You'd have to carefully review the fee agreement for more information as well.
Answer Applies to: Michigan
Replied: 9/2/2011
Donahue, Sowa & Magana Attorneys at Law
Donahue, Sowa & Magana Attorneys at Law | Glenn M. Sowa
Yes, an attorney may withdraw from representing you in the middle of a case for non-payment of fees. This presents a conflict to the attorney because you are not cooperating with him/her in your representation. You probably entered into a written contract for representation and your failure to pay is a breach of contract which now puts your attorney in an antagonistic position to you, through no fault of the attorney. Your attorney may have to sue you for payment of fees, and an attorney may not both represent you and sue you.
Answer Applies to: Illinois
Replied: 8/24/2011
Austin Legal Services, PLC
Austin Legal Services, PLC | Jared Austin
Your attorney has an ethical obligation to continue working on your case as long as he is the attorney. If not, you can file a grievance against him at the state bar. However, he can file a motion to withdraw as counsel and if you were behind in paying him, the judge may grant his motion. You will probably have to come up with some money to keep him on as your attorney.
Answer Applies to: Michigan
Replied: 8/24/2011
Law Offices of John J. Connors, Esq.
Law Offices of John J. Connors, Esq. | John J. Connors, Esq.
Once an attorney is in a case, he must work for the client. That is why many attorneys ask for the fee before they put in an appearance. The attorney can not just walk away from a case when the money runs out. If the problem causes a break in the attorney-client relationship there is the possibility that the attorney would ask the court to let him or her withdraw from the case. A judge can allow him to withdraw. While the attorney is in the case, that attorney has the duty to represent you zealously.
Answer Applies to: Massachusetts
Replied: 8/23/2011
    Law Office of Phillip Weiser
    Law Office of Phillip Weiser | Phillip L. Weiser
    This sounds like a domestic case, a divorce or some other type. The attorney is not bound to represent a client who has not paid him. If this were a criminal case, the judge could over-ride and force the attorney to complete the case even without pay. If this were to occur, the judge may need to determine if the case can continue because of a conflict of interest due to the parting of the ways of attorney and client. The judge would need to be sure the client has unquestioned representation, so any disagreement between the attorney and client (such as whether the attorney will be paid for his services) may cause the judge to let him off the case. The best representation comes from an attorney/client relationship which has no problems, such as payment. I would suggest paying him, or getting another attorney to represent you.
    Answer Applies to: Kansas
    Replied: 8/22/2011
    Reeves Law Firm, P.C.
    Reeves Law Firm, P.C. | Roy L. Reeves
    Yes and No. Your attorney cannot "refuse to do anything" as so to speak, but your attorney has a right to withdraw from the case and cease representation for lack of payment. Think of it this way, would you go to work if your boss refused to pay you? This is no different.
    Answer Applies to: Texas
    Replied: 8/22/2011
    Freeborn Law Offices, P.S.
    Freeborn Law Offices, P.S. | Steve Freeborn
    An attorney could try and step away from your case. No one wants to work for free. With criminal cases, it's a little harder as it requires the approval of the judge. Your case description sounds like it's more civil in nature. In civil cases, there really is no restriction imposed on an attorney. He/she can decide to no longer represent you for any number of reasons, including non payment. Hopefully, you can work something out.
    Answer Applies to: Washington
    Replied: 8/22/2011
    Wallin & Klarich: A Law Corporation
    Wallin & Klarich: A Law Corporation | Paul Wallin
    It depends upon what the terms of our written contract with the lawyer states. However, the lawyer must make a motion to be relieved as counsel before he can stop working on your case.
    Answer Applies to: California
    Replied: 8/22/2011
    Law Offices of Jeffery A. Cojocar, PC
    Law Offices of Jeffery A. Cojocar, PC | Jeffery A. Cojocar
    depends on the attorney's policies and retainer contract, but typically yes they can.
    Answer Applies to: Michigan
    Replied: 8/22/2011
    Law Office of Geoffrey M. Yaryan
    Law Office of Geoffrey M. Yaryan | Geoffrey M. Yaryan
    Yes he can withdraw if you are unable to pay him. However, a judge must approve, and if it is close to trial that is unlikely.
    Answer Applies to: California
    Replied: 8/22/2011
    Timothy J. Thill P.C.
    Timothy J. Thill P.C. | Timothy J. Thill
    This is a civil question, and not criminal in nature, however, I would guess the attorney has a right to withdraw from your civil case, however, it is up to the discretion of the presiding judge to grant him leave to withdraw.
    Answer Applies to: Illinois
    Replied: 8/22/2011
    Law Office of Brendan M. Kelly
    Law Office of Brendan M. Kelly | Brendan M. Kelly
    An attorney can move to withdraw from your case and one of the reasons if failure to pay fees that are due.
    Answer Applies to: Nebraska
    Replied: 8/21/2011
    Edward  D. Dowling IV Attorney at Law
    Edward D. Dowling IV Attorney at Law | Edward D. Dowling IV
    I would need further information to answer better. However, it is generally up to the judge to relieve an attorney from representation if the attorney makes a motion to be relieved. Generally non payment in a civil case is grounds to be relieved while in a criminal case nonpayment alone is generally not grounds to be relieved.
    Answer Applies to: New York
    Replied: 8/22/2011
    Rose & Rose | Terry Rose
    Your attorney would need to make a motion in the court to withdraw as counsel. If the attorney does not, the attorney is obligated to represent you.
    Answer Applies to: Wisconsin
    Replied: 8/21/2011
    Law Office of Roianne H. Conner
    Law Office of Roianne H. Conner | Roianne Houlton Conner
    Under the Alabama rules that Attorneys must abide your attorney can refuse to do anymore work until paid. If there is a Court date the attorney must withdraw from the case in enough time to allow the client to get a new attorney.
    Answer Applies to: Alabama
    Replied: 8/21/2011
    Law Office of Andrew Subin
    Law Office of Andrew Subin | Andrew Subin
    No.
    Answer Applies to: Washington
    Replied: 6/9/2013
    Law Office of Richard Williams
    Law Office of Richard Williams | Richard Williams
    This is really a matter between you and your attorney and is best left for you to decide what to do. I would suggest that you meet with your attorney and see if you can come to some sort of understanding and see if you can leave the meeting feeling confident that your attorney will do what is best for you. If you do not feel comfortable in your representation, or if an accord cannot be reached, you should see if you can find an attorney you are comfortable with and ask your attorney to withdraw. If you are not able to afford an attorney you may want to see if you qualify for an attorney through legal services or the volunteer lawyers program.
    Answer Applies to: Alabama
    Replied: 8/20/2011
    Michael Breczinski
    Michael Breczinski | Michael Breczinski
    He has to ask the judge to be let out of the case. THe judge may not let him out. There has to be a hearing unless everyone agrees that he can get out of the case.
    Answer Applies to: Michigan
    Replied: 8/20/2011
    Craig W. Elhart, P.C.
    Craig W. Elhart, P.C. | Craig Elhart
    If it is an ongoing case, the attorney would have to seek permission from you or the court to withdraw. If it is for a new matter, the attorney could decline to accept new work until a past due bill is paid. Attorneys earn their living by representing people in court and during legal matters. They cannot work indefinitely for free.
    Answer Applies to: Michigan
    Replied: 8/20/2011
    Michael R. Nack, Attorney at Law
    Michael R. Nack, Attorney at Law | Michael R. Nack
    An attorney has the right to be compensated for his time and effort on your behalf. I hope that you have a written fee agreement and the terms of that agreement will control. In far too many cases, the client does not pay the attorney's fees as agreed and this causes a severe strain on the attorney-client relationship. Do you work? Do you get paid for your work? Why should the attorney be treated any differently than you? Does your boss have the right to make you continue working but refuse to pay you? Clients who do not pay their attorney's fees often put a strain on the attorney's ability to satisfy his or her financial obligations. Attorneys have bills to pay just lie you do. In most cases that are pending in court the attorney will need to obtain the Judge's permission to withdraw from the representation, but this permission is routinely granted unless the Motion to Withdraw comes too close to a trial setting. I would advise you to make some arrangements to straighten things out with your attorney and allow him or her the opportunity to complete the job.
    Answer Applies to: Missouri
    Replied: 8/20/2011
    Klisz Law Office, PLLC
    Klisz Law Office, PLLC | Timothy J. Klisz
    Yes, they can move to withdraw as your attorney. It's up to the judge.
    Answer Applies to: Michigan
    Replied: 8/20/2011
    Nelson & Lawless
    Nelson & Lawless | Terry Nelson
    He CAN do anything he likes, including firing the client for non payment. If you dont keep your end of the bargain, he doesnt have to either. You dont expect him to work for free do you? The rules say he should quit only if you have adequate time to get new counsel to represent you properly. He cant quit the day before trial, as an example.
    Answer Applies to: California
    Replied: 8/20/2011
    Lacy Fields, Attorney at Law, LLC
    Lacy Fields, Attorney at Law, LLC | Lacy Fields
    It depends on the type of case, but your attorney is probably within his/her rights. Generally speaking no one can compel us to work for free, just as your boss cannot force you to keep coming to work after he has stopped paying you for months.
    Answer Applies to: Missouri
    Replied: 8/20/2011
    Law Office of Jeff Yeh
    Law Office of Jeff Yeh | Jeff Yeh
    No worries. Attorneys are not allowed to just stop working. Go to court and tell the Judge what is happening. Better you, tell your attorney that you will go to court at the next hearing to address this issue to the Judge. Chances are, the lawyer will budge.
    Answer Applies to: California
    Replied: 8/20/2011
    Dennis Roberts, a P.C.
    Dennis Roberts, a P.C. | Dennis Roberts
    Civil attorneys are not really of big help. You might contact the Bar but I doubt it will do any good.
    Answer Applies to: California
    Replied: 8/20/2011
    Law Office of Maureen Furlong Baldwin
    Law Office of Maureen Furlong Baldwin | Maureen Furlong Baldwin
    Since you hired the atty to prosecute a civil contempt in family court, you are bound by any agreement that the two of you reach. That is not a criminal defense matter. the court has more "say" over criminal defense matters and may not have released him.
    Answer Applies to: California
    Replied: 8/20/2011
    Jules N. Fiani, Attorney at Law
    Jules N. Fiani, Attorney at Law | Jules Fiani
    Yes.
    Answer Applies to: Michigan
    Replied: 6/9/2013
    Law Office of Jared Altman
    Law Office of Jared Altman | Jared Altman
    He may ask to be relieved as your attorney by the judge because you have not paid. But, while he remains your attorney of record, he owes you an ethical duty to continue representing you.
    Answer Applies to: New York
    Replied: 8/19/2011
    The Geller Firm
    The Geller Firm | Marc B Geller
    It depends on your written fee agreement. If it was a criminal case, the lawyer may not be permitted to withdraw; in a civil contempt case the retainer agreement should answer your question.
    Answer Applies to: California
    Replied: 8/19/2011
    Gutin and Wolverton
    Gutin and Wolverton | Harley Gutin
    An attorney needs the Court's permission to withdraw from a case. The Judge may not let the attorney withdraw, if you object, merely due to money issues. But you may not want an attorney who is not committed to your cause representing you.
    Answer Applies to: Florida
    Replied: 8/19/2011
    Thomas J. Tomko Attorney At law
    Thomas J. Tomko Attorney At law | Thomas J. Tomko
    Michigan is an at will employment state. Therefore, an employee can terminate their employment without cause. Non-payment is cause. In attorney cases, the attorney generally cannot be forced to continue to work if there is a fee dispute.
    Answer Applies to: Michigan
    Replied: 8/19/2011
    Michael D. Fluke, P.A.
    Michael D. Fluke, P.A. | Michael D. Fluke
    You have no right to an attorney in a civil case such as a Family Law matter and if you have violated the terms of your retainer agreement the attorney has every right to withdraw. Most attorneys will not rely on the prospect of recovering attorney fees and costs in continuing their representation. Assuming the final hearing is not within the next few weeks, a court will allow that attorney to withdraw.
    Answer Applies to: Florida
    Replied: 8/19/2011
    Law Office of Michael Morgan, l.L.C.
    Law Office of Michael Morgan, l.L.C. | Michael Morgan
    An attorney normally needs permission of the court to withdraw from an active casebut under the circumstances you described that permission should be granted.
    Answer Applies to: Washington
    Replied: 8/19/2011
    Andersen Law PLLC
    Andersen Law PLLC | Craig Andersen
    The simple answer is the attorney can withdraw due to nonpayment of fees. If trial is set, he or she would need court permission but you would have to file an objection with the court. Try to think of it this way. You hire a person to come and clean your house. You promise him or her $200 for a good deep cleaning. Now being a cautious person, you offer to pay the housekeeper half or $100 to clean the house and another $100 when the job is done. Would you expect the house cleaner to complete the job if you told him or her your won't pay the $100 at the end of the job? You may be able to negotiate something with your attorney but your best strategy may be to get the case noted for hearing and get the thing over with as soon as possible. Your other options would be to hire another attorney or represent yourself. There are pitfalls in representing one's self though and you would be held to the same standards of an attorney including knowing and understanding the rules of evidence, civil procedure and family law. The law school classes for these subjects can take at least a semester and some a year so that's what you would be up against. Of course you can have a "come to Jesus" talk with the lawyer and let him or her know that you feel you are being overcharged. You would also have the right to file a bar complaint but that will end your relationship with the attorney as that is fairly extreme. I would say just talk to your lawyer and let him or her know where you are coming from and see what it would take to wrap this case up.
    Answer Applies to: Washington
    Replied: 8/19/2011
    Grasso Law Group
    Grasso Law Group | Charles Grasso, Esq.
    An attorney and can seek to be removed from a case if they are not being paid.
    Answer Applies to: California
    Replied: 8/19/2011
    Lewis & Dickstein, P.L.L.C.
    Lewis & Dickstein, P.L.L.C. | Loren Dickstein
    Judge's do not award attorney fees in criminal cases so I'm not too sure what type of case you are referencing. If your lawyer is not doing additional work because you are not paying him, that doesn't seem unreasonable. If you go into a grocery store and ask for free food, it is unlikely they are going to just let you walk out with some free food. A lawyer's time is his commodity and lawyers should not be expected to work for free. The money you've paid is for past work and doesn't entitle you to special credit toward free legal services.
    Answer Applies to: Michigan
    Replied: 8/19/2011
    Dunnings Law Firm
    Dunnings Law Firm | Steven Dunnings
    He would need to get an order from the court to allow him to withdraw, but your failure to keep your account current with him/her is a basis for alleging a breakdown of the attorney-client relationship.
    Answer Applies to: Michigan
    Replied: 8/19/2011
    The Chastaine Law Office
    The Chastaine Law Office | Michael Chastaine
    Being an attorney is a business. If you agreed to pay a certain rate and are refusing to honor the contract, the attorney can terminate the representation.
    Answer Applies to: California
    Replied: 8/19/2011
    Beaulier Law Office
    Beaulier Law Office | Maury Beaulier
    Yes. In a family law case, an attorney may withdraw at any time with proper notice so that the client's rights are not impaired. That may occur if legal fees are not paid.
    Answer Applies to: Minnesota
    Replied: 8/19/2011
    Law Office of Rankin Johnson IV, LLC
    Law Office of Rankin Johnson IV, LLC | Rankin Johnson IV
    The attorney can ask the court for permission to withdraw, but, until removed by the court, the attorney has to work on the case as the case requires it.
    Answer Applies to: Oregon
    Replied: 8/19/2011
    Healan Law Offices
    Healan Law Offices | William D. Healan, III
    If you don't pay your light bill, they turn off your lights. Same thing with lawyers. If you don't pay your attorney's bill, he will likely withdraw from your case.
    Answer Applies to: Georgia
    Replied: 8/19/2011
    LynchLaw
    LynchLaw | Michael Thomas Lynch
    It all depends on the fee agreement between you and your attorney. Typically, the fee agreement would hold you in breach if you have not paid the fees. Because of the breach the attorney has a right to request you to signed a substitution of attorney form. If you fail to sign, the attorney has the right to petition the court to allow him to pull out of the case. Most courts will allow the attorney to do just that so long as the case is not close to trial. Since you described the matter as "in the middle" most likely the court would grant the request. You are in a difficult position. You need to either pay the attorney, find a new attorney, or represent yourself. My suggestion would be to take your attorney to lunch and have a heart to heart discussion.
    Answer Applies to: California
    Replied: 8/19/2011
    A.L.A. Law Group, LLP
    A.L.A. Law Group, LLP | Lauren M. Mayfield
    Yes, your attorney can ask the court to be removed as your counsel. It is up to the judge whether or not they will grant your attorney's request. The court will refuse an attorney's request if it is too far into the proceedings or too close to an important part of your case. You should review the retainer agreement you signed with your attorney and review the provisions pertaining to his or her withdrawal from the case.
    Answer Applies to: California
    Replied: 8/19/2011
    Laguzzi Law, P.C.
    Laguzzi Law, P.C. | Carina Laguzzi
    If you have an agreement with your attorney, then he or she has to finish getting paid before they can continue working. If you cannot, advise your attorney and you can petition the Court for the services of the Public Defender.
    Answer Applies to: Pennsylvania
    Replied: 8/19/2011
    Law Offices of John Carney
    Law Offices of John Carney | John Carney
    When you retain an attorney you will be asked to sign a retainer agreement. This is required for matrimonial matters, criminal cases over $3,000, and many other matters. If you singed the agreement you will responsible for any amount the attorney requests on an hourly basis, usually for $200 or $300 per hour. Most agreements allow the client to retain new counsel and get back unearned fees and for the attorney to withdraw if the funds are not paid in a timely fashion. He may or may not be allowed to withdraw from the case by the judge, depending on the circumstances. It may effect your credit if you do not pay the funds that are due. You may have to retain new counsel to finish the matter. You should have negotiated a cap or fixed rate if possible to avoid such situations where you legally obligated to pay any reasonable fee, and take the lawyers word for how many hours were expended. That is why you must retain the right attorney to handle any matters, especially if it is an hourly rate and there will be many appearances over a period of a year or more such as a matrimonial matter, divorce, custody battle, or other civil or criminal case which takes years to resolve. One attorney may resolve a matter for $3,000 in your favor in three months while another will lose the case and run up a bill for $10,000 over a period of several years. Either way, you are obligated to pay an attorney for any reasonable and necessary hours he spent handling the case, whether he gets good results or bad, and you have to trust that he will not bill for more hours than were necessary or even actually performed. Most lawyers charge reasonable fees and are honest about how much work was necessary and proper. If you are not a good negotiator or do not know what is reasonable and necessary you stand the risk of being taken advantage of by anyone you do business with.
    Answer Applies to: New York
    Replied: 8/19/2011
    Watkins Law Office
    Watkins Law Office | Bob Watkins
    It is a good reason lawyers ask the court to allow him/her to withdraw. The Court's generally allow such requests unless extenuating circumstances exist. Lawyers, like all other professions, are entitled to be compensated for their work.
    Answer Applies to: New Hampshire
    Replied: 9/2/2011
    John Segelbaum, P.S.
    John Segelbaum, P.S. | John Segelbaum
    Once an attorney files a notice of appearance in a case, he or she has a professional obligation to represent the client until he or she has been allowed to withdraw from a case by the court.
    Answer Applies to: Washington
    Replied: 8/19/2011
    The English Law Firm
    The English Law Firm | Robert English
    It depends on your agreement. Attorneys are not required to work for free. The attorney has a duty not to let important deadlines slip by, but may not necessarily be required to push forward while there is a large balance owed. You have the right to sub out that attorney and retain new counsel or proceed pro per.
    Answer Applies to: California
    Replied: 8/19/2011
    Bloom Legal, LLC
    Bloom Legal, LLC | Seth J. Bloom
    You should work with your attorney to attempt to arrange a payment plan, but if you made a promise to pay a certain amount by a certain deadline, then it may be possible for your attorney to refuse to continue to work on the case. This will depend upon the nature of your original agreement at the time that you retained your attorney's services.
    Answer Applies to: Louisiana
    Replied: 8/19/2011
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