By: John R. Coleman, Jr. & Natalie V. Teston
Coleman, Chambers, Rogers & Williams, LLP
There are numerous reasons attorneys withdraw from representation of clients. Commonly, attorneys request the Court to allow his or her withdrawal from representation on the basis that the client has failed to abide by the obligations contained in the employment contract. The obligations found in an attorney-client employment contract can include terms of payment, promises to be honest and forthcoming, and promises to respond in a timely manner.
Many times an attorney will allow the opposing party to believe that the withdrawal is based on issues surrounding payment when in fact that is not the true reason. This can be done for the client's own protection. Lawyers can withdraw based on the fact their client refuses to be truthful, refuses to follow the attorney's advice, demands to pursue an unethical course of action, demands unrealistic results, desires to mislead the Court, refuses to cooperate with their counsel as well as countless other reasons. Bringing to light one of these reasons as the basis for an attorney's desire to withdraw could have a negative impact on the client's case. Therefore it is typically safer for the client if the attorney cites reasons involving legal fee disputes or generic non-compliance with the employment agreement.
There are certain procedures an attorney who wishes to withdraw must follow in order to safeguard the client's interests during this transition. First, the attorney must give the client proper notice of the intended withdrawal as well as notices of upcoming hearing dates, etc. The attorney must also notify the court of the client's contact information so that notices can be sent directly to the client following the withdrawal. The attorney must also file a motion with the court requesting permission to withdraw from representation. Typically the attorney will affirm the other procedural safeguards and notifications have been met in this motion. The attorney is not relieved of his or her duties to represent the client unless and until an order granting the withdrawal is signed by the judge and filed with the clerk of court.
Clients are also allowed to terminate the attorney-client relationship. Clients can fire their attorneys at will. No permission from the court is necessary, but the attorney must still formally withdraw by filing the notices, motion and order referenced above. If the client has hired a new attorney, this new attorney and the client can sign and submit a Substitution of Counsel, which also acts to formally remove the old attorney from the case. Some common reasons why clients decide to fire their attorneys are as follows: the client and the attorney do not agree on how best to handle the case, a lack of communication between the client and attorney and disputes over legal fees.
Typically an attorney who is being fired will request the client to sign a document stating the client understands the negative consequences that may result from proceeding forward in the litigation unrepresented and that despite these risks the client still desires to terminate the attorney-client relationship. It is important to note that neither an attorney's withdrawal nor a client's firing of an attorney relieves the client of the obligation to pay legal fees incurred in their representation. This obligation to pay legal fees survives the termination of the attorney-client relationship. It is therefore important to refer back to your employment agreement to address any payment issues.
As a general rule, an attorney's withdrawal from representation of a client or a client's firing of an attorney is a last resort. Most of the time attorneys and clients are able to work through issues and personality differences that may arise during representation. However, the withdrawal process exists to ensure no attorney and client are forced to work together.
About the authors: John R. Coleman, Jr. and Natalie V. Teston are attorneys with Coleman, Chambers, Rogers & Williams, LLP, in Gainesville, Georgia. The law firm of Coleman, Chambers, Rogers & Williams, LLP regularly handles all types of domestic relations actions. The firm has handled and can handle domestic relations cases in numerous counties, including: Hall County (Gainesville), White County (Cleveland), Lumpkin County (Dahlonega), Gwinnett County (Lawrenceville), Dawson County (Dawsonville), Habersham County (Demorest/Cornelia), and throughout all of Northeast Georgia.