The terms of your attorney-client agreement should define the scope of representation in a particular matter—which might range from simply evaluating the merits of a case to full representation in litigation or in handling a transactional matter, such as an estate plan. But even when you complete your responsibilities under the agreement, must sure to do the following:
- Send your client a termination letter. It’s important to advise your client in writing that no further services are contemplated or will be provided, absent a further written agreement outlining the new terms of the attorney’s representation (and payment of appropriate fees). This will help avoid misunderstandings with the client about the scope of current legal services rendered and any future legal services to be rendered as may be requested (and to that extent will help avoid claims of attorney malpractice).
- File a notice of withdrawal. If judgment is entered in a case or the matter is otherwise resolved, unless you’ve agreed to continue to represent the client after the judgment, you should file a notice of withdrawal (see CCP §285.1) as soon as you’ve taken care of any and all follow-up action. Explain to the client (if it’s true) that you’ll be available in the future if he or she needs further representation, but that withdrawing as attorney of record protects the client from unnecessary expense if a postjudgment motion is served on the attorney and the client can’t be located.
Understandably, attorneys may be hesitant to take these final steps at the end of a representation for fear that the client might misinterpret it, and it could slam the door on that client’s future business. But as Christian A. Stiegemeyer explains in his ABA Journal article, The End-of-Representation Talk Doesn’t Always Mean the End,
[a] closing letter is a valuable tool in both securing the future business and avoiding the malpractice risks… [and] drafting an effective closing letter is equal parts art and science.
Craft your termination letter to end your current representation of the client and explain the reasons for filing a notice of withdrawal, while simultaneously welcoming the client to bring you other matters in the future.
Want help in drafting your termination letter? CEB’s got you covered with form termination letters in California Client Communications Manual: Sample Letters and Forms, chapter 7. This book is a must-have resource for anyone new to practice or going solo.
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