Some cases sound good at first but less so after you’ve gotten a closer look. How do you extricate yourself from a case you don’t want to take; in other words, how do you dump a dog?
It is sometimes appropriate for an attorney to terminate his or her representation of a client after doing an initial evaluation of the client’s case. This might occur, for example, when an attorney provisionally agrees to handle a case—subject to an evaluation—and on completing the evaluation determines that the case lacks sufficient merit to proceed. See generally Cal Rules of Prof Cond 3-200(B), 3-700(C).
Getting out of a case the right way starts when you first get involved with the client: Make sure that your role and responsibilities are clear from the first contact with the client, i.e., make sure the client understands that you are not agreeing to take his or her case, but rather, agreeing to make an initial evaluation of the case and, if you find that the case lacks merit, you won’t provide any further representation on that case.
If after you’ve made your initial evaluation you decide not to take the case, you need to inform your client promptly in writing of your decision. Make sure to include the following in the letter:
- Advise that the client seek other counsel if he or she wants a further opinion; and
- If there is an applicable statute of limitations, make reference to it in the letter so that the client is on notice of the limitations period.
For more on terminating your relationship with a client, turn to CEB’s California Client Communications Manual: Sample Letters and Forms. This very practical book includes an illustrative letter advising that no legal representation will be undertaken after an initial consultation (during which an attorney was not formally retained). Here’s an excellent video introduction to the book by one of its authors, Micha Liberty.
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