Is a lawyer, whose bill for professional services remains unpaid despite repeated promises by his client to pay it, and who intends to assert his retaining lien, obligated to comply with clients instructions to furnish the client’s new lawyer with a description of all legal matters on which he is currently working, together with a statement of the status thereof?
The form of the question suggests that the attorney has thus far neither withdrawn nor been formally discharged. However, whether or not this is so, the attorney is required to furnish his client or, on his client’s instructions, the client’s new lawyer, with a description of all legal matters on which the attorney is currently working, and such information as is required by the client or his new lawyer to protect the client from foreseeable prejudice. While, to secure payment of his reasonable charges, the attorney has a retaining lien on all papers of his client in his possession, he also has a duty to take such reasonable steps as are possible, without surrendering that lien, to guard the client’s rights. This is so where the attorney still represents the client, and is equally true where the attorney has either voluntarily withdrawn or has been discharged.
DR 2-110(A)(2) provides:
“In any event, a lawyer shall not withdraw
from employment until he has taken reasonable steps to avoid foreseeable prejudice to the rights of his client, including giving due notice to his client, allowing time for employment of other counsel, delivering to the client all papers and property to which the client is entitled, and complying with applicable laws and rules”
That this rule is applicable to an attorney who has been discharged by his client as well as to one who voluntarily withdraws appears clear from the structure of DR 2-110, It is set out in Paragraph (A) of the rule which is headed “In general”, and clearly qualifies both Paragraph (B), which is headed Mandatory withdrawal”, and which provides that a lawyer shall withdraw if “he is discharged by his client” and Section (C) which deals with “Permissive withdrawal.”
While furnishing a description of, and necessary information concerning, all legal matters on which the lawyer is currently working may entail some additional work, it is required, even after the attorney has withdrawn or his employment has been terminated, by the attorney’s obligation to avoid foreseeable prejudice to the rights of his client.
October 10, 1973