• Estate Planning Intensive Course

    Estate Planning Intensive Course
  • Categories

  • Archives

  • © The Regents of the University of California, 2010-2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

Return to Sender

The files you keep on your clients’ cases usually include documents (and sometimes other property) that your clients have given to you in connection with their cases. What happens to all this stuff when you’re no longer on the case? The answer: You’ve got to give it back.

The California Rules of Professional Conduct lay it all out. When an attorney’s “employment has terminated,” he or she must return all “client papers and property,” at a client’s request, including (Cal Rules of Prof Cond 3-700(D)(1)):

  • Correspondence;
  • Pleadings;
  • Deposition transcripts;
  • Exhibits;
  • Physical evidence;
  • Expert’s reports; and
  • “Other items reasonably necessary to the client’s representation, whether the client has paid for them or not.”

What about valuable stuff from your client? Another professional conduct rule requires an attorney to identify and label “funds, securities, and other properties of a client” and put them either in a “safe deposit box or other place of safekeeping.” Cal Rules of Prof Cond 4-100(B)(2). An attorney must account to a client on such items, and promptly pay or deliver them to the client, as the client requests. Cal Rules of Prof Cond 4-100(B)(4). In addition, an attorney must maintain records of these items for at least 5 years after distributing them. Cal Rules of Prof Cond 4-100(B)(3).

And don’t even think about withholding the client’s stuff (e.g., for nonpayment of fees) in the guise of asserting some type of possessory lien. Also, don’t claim in a legal action with the client that the items are your protected work product. See CCP §2018.080.

For information on a file retention and disposition policy, check out our earlier blog post, When the Party’s Over: What to Do with Client Files? Looking for guidance in all aspects of your practice? Check out CEB’s California Client Communications Manual: Sample Letters and Forms, chap 8.

© The Regents of the University of California, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

3 Responses

  1. OK, for years our office has totally abided by the rules to return client property to them. The unanswered problem for us is, what to require of the client in terms of their acknowledgment that they already got their documents back? Once every 4 or 5 years, we get someone who consults with us,who then does not hire us, but then goes on to demand the “original file” that we already copied and returned to them.

    Our office’s standard policy is to photocopy what the client brings us for consultation and return their documents (which are almost always photocopies or computer printouts from somewhere else). But then, once every few years, we get a call from some other attorney saying we kept client’s original documents, even when we can get the 30-minute client to sign an acknowledgment that we copied and returned their papers to them.(I use client loosely here, as I’m talking about those who do not stay beyond a consultation). In the situations in my memory, we’ve presented the signed acknowledgment to the next lawyer down the road and never hear from either of them again. Still, there must be other lawyers who have dealt with this situation in various ways. Suggestions, anyone?

  2. Reblogged this on legallexicondotcom and commented:
    The files you keep on your clients’ cases usually include documents (and sometimes other property) that your clients have given to you in connection with their cases. What happens to all this stuff when you’re no longer on the case? The answer: You’ve got to give it back.

Add your comment to the blog post

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: