Can a lawyer quit after 3 years of representation over settlement?

by William
(Plattsburgh, NY)

In a personal injury case, after the lawsuit, depositions, and note of issue has been filed, can an attorney withdraw from the case at anytime or does the attorney need permission from the judge? The same lawyer has been handling case for 3+ years.

The client received a phone call from her attorney stating the defense would like to settle for a certain amount. The attorney advised her to take it (without much explanation). The client agreed and in a week received the papers she must sign.

In bold letters it states that the client has no obligation in signing the documents and has the right to trial. The client read the documents and realized that it's for a full release of liability. This information might be common to a person who knows about this but is usually new to a person that never dealt with such.

The client phoned the attorney and wanted to discuss the case and the settlement. The attorney became angry and told the client he will withdraw as her lawyer if she doesn't sign the papers.

Can this happen without filing with the courts and getting permission? And will a judge allow this? Thanks for any information you can give.

Visitor Question:
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ANSWER for "Can a lawyer quit after 3 years of representation over settlement?":

William (Plattsburgh, NY):

If the attorney filed a lawsuit she can only withdraw from your representation after filing with the court a Motion to Withdraw. That motion will have to be filed in the same court in which the lawsuit was filed.

If the attorney files the motion it is entirely likely a hearing will be set and you will be notified to appear. At the hearing the attorney will testify first. She will tell the judge the basis of her motion is your failure to cooperate and follow her advice. You will testify next and tell the judge the reasons you don't think the attorney should resign.

If the attorney has a reputation for withdrawing from cases for questionable reasons the judge may not grant her motion. On the other hand, if the attorney has a good reputation and seldom files motions to withdraw the judge may look favorably on the motion and grant it.

Failing to cooperate or follow the advice of an attorney is normally sufficient grounds for the attorney to withdraw. In your case if the attorney is permitted to withdraw all the money she spent on the case, including the court reporter's fees, filing fees, and expert testimony (if any) will be lost and you will not be responsible to pay it.

It's probably a good idea to heed your attorney's advice. If you don't and she withdraws it will be very difficult for you to find another attorney who will accept the case. That's because if the new attorney does, he will have to pay your first attorney's fees from the settlement or court award, and then deduct his fees. As a result, when the case is finalized you will be left with much less money.

Best of Luck,

Law Guy

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