Does the client have a right to his legal file if he terminates the attorney leaving a balance on his account? 19 Answers as of May 20, 2013

A client is disappointed in his legal representation and terminates his relationship with his lawyer. He has paid most of his legal bill, but a small balance remains. Because of the nature of his case, he must find new counsel immediately. Does his former lawyer have a right to withhold the client's legal file untilmthe balance is paid?

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Weiss Law, P.C. | Laurie Weiss
In Georgia it is unethical for an attorney to withhold a client's file because money is owed, although unfortunately this seems to be a common practice.
Answer Applies to: Georgia
Replied: 5/20/2013
Law Office of Brent R. Chipman
Law Office of Brent R. Chipman | Brent R. Chipman
Yes. A former client has an absolute right to receive a copy of his file from his former attorney whether or not they have paid the account in full. You should consider contacting the Office of Professional Responsibility at the state bar offices if the file is not provided, and if the former client does not want to pay, or if he cannot pay the balance owing.
Answer Applies to: Utah
Replied: 5/9/2013
John Russo | John Russo
NO
Answer Applies to: Rhode Island
Replied: 5/9/2013
Gaubert Law Office, A Prof. LLC
Gaubert Law Office, A Prof. LLC | Denis J. Gaubert, III
No.
Answer Applies to: Louisiana
Replied: 5/9/2013
Kram & Wooster, P.S. | Richard H. Wooster
No, but he can charge you for a copy of your file. Work with you new attorney on getting your file.
Answer Applies to: Washington
Replied: 5/9/2013
    Gregory T. Buckley, Attorney at Law
    Gregory T. Buckley, Attorney at Law | Gregory T. Buckley
    It depends on the language of the original retainer agreement, but generally an attorney is considered to have a lien on the file until the entire bill is paid.
    Answer Applies to: Florida
    Replied: 5/9/2013
    Reade & Associates
    Reade & Associates | R. Christopher Reade
    In Nevada, the answer is yes. The retention of the file is called a retaining lien. The client (and only the client) can petition the Court to require the Attorney to release the file to the Client upon the posting of adequate security or bond.
    Answer Applies to: Nevada
    Replied: 5/9/2013
    Law Offices of Frances Headley | Frances Headley
    No, the client is entitled to the file. You can request the assistance of the State Bar to get the file if it is not turned over immediately.
    Answer Applies to: California
    Replied: 5/9/2013
    Peters Law, PLLC
    Peters Law, PLLC | Mark T. Peters, Sr.
    Yes he can keep the file until he is paid or arrangements are made with the new counsel to get paid from the proceeds.
    Answer Applies to: Idaho
    Replied: 5/9/2013
    Peyton and Associates | Barbara Peyton
    Absolutely
    Answer Applies to: California
    Replied: 5/9/2013
    Kunin &Carman | Ishi Kunin
    There is a right for a lawyer to place a retaining lien on the file, but the lawyer may not do so if it is prejudicial to the client. So if the file has documents for an upcoming trial for example, the lawyer should release though. The lawyer should have copied the client on all pleadings and correspondence as the representation was going along. If you get new counsel, that counsel should be able to better advise as to what is necessary.
    Answer Applies to: Nevada
    Replied: 5/9/2013
    James T. Weiner & Associates, P.C.
    James T. Weiner & Associates, P.C. | James T. Weiner
    The former attorney cannot harm the clients case because of a nonpaid bill that attorney can be sanctioned contact your new attorney and have him ask for the file.
    Answer Applies to: Michigan
    Replied: 5/9/2013
    Musilli Brennan Associates PLLC
    Musilli Brennan Associates PLLC | John F Brennan
    Generally not, an attorney must not impair the clients case.
    Answer Applies to: Michigan
    Replied: 5/9/2013
    Woods, May & Matlock, PC
    Woods, May & Matlock, PC | Robert J. Matlock
    A lawyer is obligated to provide the client with the pertinent documents in the client's file.
    Answer Applies to: Texas
    Replied: 5/9/2013
    Cantin Lawyers PC | John Morris
    Connecticut does recognize that an attorney may possess a retaining lien on a file until paid. There are ethical considerations because the attorney cannot withhold information that may prejudice the client case. Few attorney's really exercise the lien. However, one the last things a client wants to do is to put new counsel in the position of trying to ask prior counsel for info on the case and have difficulty because of billing issues. Better advice is to make a deal with attorney #1 to settle up.
    Answer Applies to: Connecticut
    Replied: 5/9/2013
    Gateway Legal Group | Christian J. Albut
    Yes. Your file belongs to you. If you contact the attorney he will prepare it for you and then you may pick it up. You will still owe the balance, but you are entitled to the file.
    Answer Applies to: California
    Replied: 5/9/2013
    Elizabeth Jones, A Professional Corporation
    Elizabeth Jones, A Professional Corporation | Elizabeth Jones
    No the file belongs to the client.
    Answer Applies to: California
    Replied: 5/9/2013
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