United States: Three Reasons To Break Up With A Client

Knowing when to end an attorney-client relationship is fraught with trepidation, especially when it becomes obvious that the relationship is on a troublesome path. It should therefore come as no surprise that withdrawing from a representation is one of the most effective techniques to guard against legal malpractice claims.

There are many relationships that have a natural conclusion, whether because the matter for which the attorney was retained has ended (as defined in the engagement letter) or where the parties have agreed that services terminate automatically if legal services have not been rendered over a defined period. However, there are different ethical rules and considerations for those representations in which the attorney believes the most prudent option is to formally part ways with a client prior to that natural conclusion.

These situations may arise because a client refuses to follow the attorney's advice, is dishonest or refuses to pay the attorney's bills. While clients can terminate a representation at any time for any reason, the rules are different for attorneys who seek to end a representation prior to its conclusion.

In some situations, the decision is unavoidable because withdrawal is mandatory. These include situations where the lawyer's physical or mental condition materially impairs the lawyer's ability to represent the client; continued representation will result in a violation of law, including the Georgia Rules of Professional Conduct; or the client fires the lawyer.

One example occurs when an irreconcilable conflict arises during the representation of multiple clients parties whose interests were originally aligned. If the interests of those parties later conflict, depending on the representation and conflict at issue, the attorney could be required to withdraw from at least one of those representations.

The important point is that there are some circumstances when there is no option. If any of the three situations arise, the attorney must withdraw.

By contrast, Rule 1.16 of the Georgia Rules of Professional Conduct lists circumstances in which permissive withdrawal is possible. The rule covers a wide range of scenarios, including when a client fails to fulfill its obligations to the attorney, such as paying bills or being honest with the attorney. The rule also contains a catch-all category for cases where "other good cause for withdrawal exists."

The rule also requires the attorney to give the client "reasonable warning" that the attorney will withdraw unless the client fulfills its obligations. The one condition common to each of the grounds for withdrawal enumerated in Rule 1.16 is that it must be accomplished "without material adverse effect on the interests of the client."

The key question underlying these situations is, assuming I can withdraw, should I? Because the answer is not always clear and can have serious ramifications, it can be helpful to seek guidance from the law firm's general counsel or to engage outside counsel, if appropriate. Nevertheless, there are some situations that typically merit withdrawal, assuming the attorney can do so "without material adverse effect on the interests of the client." Here are a few.

Unpaid Legal Bills

When clients stop paying their legal bills, there is a problem. The question is why the legal bills are not being paid and whether the situation can be resolved. Every relationship differs based on the facts and circumstances. But the one solution that almost never works is to ignore it and hope it goes away.

There could be many reasons that a client is unable or unwilling to pay that will have a different impact on how an attorney may try to resolve the issue. For example, a client's failure or refusal to pay its bills could be a result of dissatisfaction with the legal services rendered. This is especially true if coupled with actual complaints or other noticeable changes in the relationship between the attorney and the client. This may be a situation for the firm's general counsel and, in addition, that supports withdrawal.

On the other hand, a client's inability to pay because of tough times can be just as worrisome. Law practices simply cannot survive by providing services to non-paying clients. The bottom line is that when a client stops or refuses to pay, attorneys can consider the possibility of withdrawing long before the representation reaches the crisis point.

Client Is Not Being Honest

Not only should the client trust the attorney's ability and willingness to represent its interests, the attorney must be able to trust that the information provided by the client is accurate and truthful. Lawyers rely on the information provided by clients in representing their interests in front of judges, other lawyers, or other third parties. Relying on false information in those contexts—even through no fault of the attorney—can harm the client's interests and permanently damage the attorney's reputation, undermining the ability to effectively advocate for other clients in the future.

Changes in the Relationship

Attorneys usually sense when attorney-client relationships change, long before something actually happens. While not all changes are causes to withdraw, some important ones often are.

For example, if the client seeks a second opinion in connection with an issue the attorney is addressing, something may not be right in the relationship. But if the client seeks a second opinion without telling the attorney in advance, there may be a serious relationship issue.

Another red flag is the receipt of a written client complaint. Once the client moves from generic grumbling about undefined concerns to specific issues with what was done or how much it cost, further action may be warranted.

Turning a blind eye to grievances and continuing the representation without a change is not a solution. Worse yet, it could have the unintentional byproduct of confirming a client's concern that the attorney has lost touch and providing additional fodder for an unhappy client. Somewhere along this spectrum, many attorneys will stop and consider the options.

For situations of permissive withdrawal, there is no magic formula for determining when to get out. What's important is that attorneys recognize the warning signs, ask the right questions, and seek advice when appropriate.

Dentons is the world's first polycentric global law firm. A top 20 firm on the Acritas 2015 Global Elite Brand Index, the Firm is committed to challenging the status quo in delivering consistent and uncompromising quality and value in new and inventive ways. Driven to provide clients a competitive edge, and connected to the communities where its clients want to do business, Dentons knows that understanding local cultures is crucial to successfully completing a deal, resolving a dispute or solving a business challenge. Now the world's largest law firm, Dentons' global team builds agile, tailored solutions to meet the local, national and global needs of private and public clients of any size in more than 125 locations serving 50-plus countries. www.dentons.com.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on Mondaq.com.

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Events from this Firm
26 Sep 2018, Conference, New York, United States

Dentons is delighted to support a global IT services and consulting firm Miratech as an event host partner at their annual conference called M-Force18 New York on September 27th. The event will be held at Dentons New York office in the heart of Midtown Manhattan, opposite Rockefeller Center.

2 Oct 2018, Seminar, Dallas, United States

We are pleased to offer a program of five sessions designed specifically for in-house counsel. Topics will include:

  • In-house corporate ethical issues
  • What recent Supreme Court decisions mean for business
  • Keeping lawyers out of your benefit plans
  • Litigation tactics for in-house counsel
  • Employment issues in the age of #MeToo
Similar Articles
Relevancy Powered by MondaqAI
In association with
Related Topics
Similar Articles
Relevancy Powered by MondaqAI
Related Articles
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Registration (you must scroll down to set your data preferences)

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including your content preferences, for three primary purposes (full details of Mondaq’s use of your personal data can be found in our Privacy and Cookies Notice):

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting to show content ("Content") relevant to your interests.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, news alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our content providers ("Contributors") who contribute Content for free for your use.

Mondaq hopes that our registered users will support us in maintaining our free to view business model by consenting to our use of your personal data as described below.

Mondaq has a "free to view" business model. Our services are paid for by Contributors in exchange for Mondaq providing them with access to information about who accesses their content. Once personal data is transferred to our Contributors they become a data controller of this personal data. They use it to measure the response that their articles are receiving, as a form of market research. They may also use it to provide Mondaq users with information about their products and services.

Details of each Contributor to which your personal data will be transferred is clearly stated within the Content that you access. For full details of how this Contributor will use your personal data, you should review the Contributor’s own Privacy Notice.

Please indicate your preference below:

Yes, I am happy to support Mondaq in maintaining its free to view business model by agreeing to allow Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors whose Content I access
No, I do not want Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors

Also please let us know whether you are happy to receive communications promoting products and services offered by Mondaq:

Yes, I am happy to received promotional communications from Mondaq
No, please do not send me promotional communications from Mondaq
Terms & Conditions

Mondaq.com (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd (Mondaq). Mondaq grants you a non-exclusive, revocable licence to access the Website and associated services, such as the Mondaq News Alerts (Services), subject to and in consideration of your compliance with the following terms and conditions of use (Terms). Your use of the Website and/or Services constitutes your agreement to the Terms. Mondaq may terminate your use of the Website and Services if you are in breach of these Terms or if Mondaq decides to terminate the licence granted hereunder for any reason whatsoever.

Use of www.mondaq.com

To Use Mondaq.com you must be: eighteen (18) years old or over; legally capable of entering into binding contracts; and not in any way prohibited by the applicable law to enter into these Terms in the jurisdiction which you are currently located.

You may use the Website as an unregistered user, however, you are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the Content or to receive the Services.

You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these Terms or with the prior written consent of Mondaq. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information from the Content. Nor shall you extract information about users or Contributors in order to offer them any services or products.

In your use of the Website and/or Services you shall: comply with all applicable laws, regulations, directives and legislations which apply to your Use of the Website and/or Services in whatever country you are physically located including without limitation any and all consumer law, export control laws and regulations; provide to us true, correct and accurate information and promptly inform us in the event that any information that you have provided to us changes or becomes inaccurate; notify Mondaq immediately of any circumstances where you have reason to believe that any Intellectual Property Rights or any other rights of any third party may have been infringed; co-operate with reasonable security or other checks or requests for information made by Mondaq from time to time; and at all times be fully liable for the breach of any of these Terms by a third party using your login details to access the Website and/or Services

however, you shall not: do anything likely to impair, interfere with or damage or cause harm or distress to any persons, or the network; do anything that will infringe any Intellectual Property Rights or other rights of Mondaq or any third party; or use the Website, Services and/or Content otherwise than in accordance with these Terms; use any trade marks or service marks of Mondaq or the Contributors, or do anything which may be seen to take unfair advantage of the reputation and goodwill of Mondaq or the Contributors, or the Website, Services and/or Content.

Mondaq reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to take any action that it deems necessary and appropriate in the event it considers that there is a breach or threatened breach of the Terms.

Mondaq’s Rights and Obligations

Unless otherwise expressly set out to the contrary, nothing in these Terms shall serve to transfer from Mondaq to you, any Intellectual Property Rights owned by and/or licensed to Mondaq and all rights, title and interest in and to such Intellectual Property Rights will remain exclusively with Mondaq and/or its licensors.

Mondaq shall use its reasonable endeavours to make the Website and Services available to you at all times, but we cannot guarantee an uninterrupted and fault free service.

Mondaq reserves the right to make changes to the services and/or the Website or part thereof, from time to time, and we may add, remove, modify and/or vary any elements of features and functionalities of the Website or the services.

Mondaq also reserves the right from time to time to monitor your Use of the Website and/or services.


The Content is general information only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice or seek to be the complete and comprehensive statement of the law, nor is it intended to address your specific requirements or provide advice on which reliance should be placed. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the Content for any purpose. All Content provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers hereby exclude and disclaim all representations, warranties or guarantees with regard to the Content, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. To the maximum extent permitted by law, Mondaq expressly excludes all representations, warranties, obligations, and liabilities arising out of or in connection with all Content. In no event shall Mondaq and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use of the Content or performance of Mondaq’s Services.


Mondaq may alter or amend these Terms by amending them on the Website. By continuing to Use the Services and/or the Website after such amendment, you will be deemed to have accepted any amendment to these Terms.

These Terms shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of England and Wales and you irrevocably submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales to settle any dispute which may arise out of or in connection with these Terms. If you live outside the United Kingdom, English law shall apply only to the extent that English law shall not deprive you of any legal protection accorded in accordance with the law of the place where you are habitually resident ("Local Law"). In the event English law deprives you of any legal protection which is accorded to you under Local Law, then these terms shall be governed by Local Law and any dispute or claim arising out of or in connection with these Terms shall be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts where you are habitually resident.

You may print and keep a copy of these Terms, which form the entire agreement between you and Mondaq and supersede any other communications or advertising in respect of the Service and/or the Website.

No delay in exercising or non-exercise by you and/or Mondaq of any of its rights under or in connection with these Terms shall operate as a waiver or release of each of your or Mondaq’s right. Rather, any such waiver or release must be specifically granted in writing signed by the party granting it.

If any part of these Terms is held unenforceable, that part shall be enforced to the maximum extent permissible so as to give effect to the intent of the parties, and the Terms shall continue in full force and effect.

Mondaq shall not incur any liability to you on account of any loss or damage resulting from any delay or failure to perform all or any part of these Terms if such delay or failure is caused, in whole or in part, by events, occurrences, or causes beyond the control of Mondaq. Such events, occurrences or causes will include, without limitation, acts of God, strikes, lockouts, server and network failure, riots, acts of war, earthquakes, fire and explosions.

By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions