The American Bar Association ABA Rule 1.16 is the regulation that guides the declining or termination of representation by a lawyer in the US.
ABA Rule 1.16 Declining or Terminating Representation
(a) Except as stated in paragraph (c), a lawyer shall not represent a client or, where representation has commenced, shall withdraw from the representation of a client if:
- (1) the lawyer knows or reasonably should know that the client is bringing an action, conducting a defense, asserting a position in litigation, or taking an appeal, without probable cause and for the purpose of harassing or maliciously injuring any person;
- (2) the lawyer knows or reasonably should know that the representation will result in violation of these rules or of the State Bar Act;
- (3) the lawyer’s mental or physical condition renders it unreasonably difficult to carry out the representation effectively; or
- (4) the client discharges the lawyer.
(b) Except as stated in paragraph (c), a lawyer may withdraw from representing a client if:
- (1) the client insists upon presenting a claim or defense in litigation, or asserting a position or making a demand in a non-litigation matter, that is not warranted under existing law and cannot be supported by good faith argument for an extension, modification, or reversal of existing law;
- (2) the client either seeks to pursue a criminal or fraudulent course of conduct or has used the lawyer’s services to advance a course of conduct that the lawyer reasonably believes was a crime or fraud;
- (3) the client insists that the lawyer pursue a course of conduct that is criminal or fraudulent;
- (4) the client by other conduct renders it unreasonably difficult for the lawyer to carry out the representation effectively;
- (5) the client breaches a material term of an agreement with, or obligation, to the lawyer relating to the representation, and the lawyer has given the client a reasonable warning after the breach that the lawyer will withdraw unless the client fulfills the agreement or performs the obligation;
- (6) the client knowingly and freely assents to termination of the representation;
- (7) the inability to work with co-counsel indicates that the best interests of the client likely will be served by withdrawal;
- (8) the lawyer’s mental or physical condition renders it difficult for the lawyer to carry out the representation effectively;
- (9) a continuation of the representation is likely to result in a violation of these rules or the State Bar Act; or
- (10) the lawyer believes in good faith, in a proceeding pending before a tribunal, that the tribunal will find the existence of other good cause for withdrawal.
(c) If permission for termination of a representation is required by the rules of a tribunal, a lawyer shall not terminate a representation before that tribunal without its permission.
(d) A lawyer shall not terminate a representation until the lawyer has taken reasonable steps to avoid reasonably foreseeable prejudice to the rights of the client, such as giving the client sufficient notice to permit the client to retain other counsel, and complying with paragraph (e).
(e) Upon the termination of a representation for any reason:
- (1) subject to any applicable protective order, non-disclosure agreement, statute or regulation, the lawyer promptly shall release to the client, at the request of the client, all client materials and property. “Client materials and property” includes correspondence, pleadings, deposition, transcripts, experts’ reports and other writings, exhibits, and physical evidence, whether in tangible, electronic or other form, and other items reasonably necessary to the client’s representation, whether the client has paid for them or not; and
- (2) the lawyer promptly shall refund any part of a fee or expense paid in advance that the lawyer has not earned or incurred. This provision is not applicable to a true retainer fee paid solely for the purpose of ensuring the availability of the lawyer for the matter.
The legal profession is guided by laws of professional conduct and the American Bar Association ABA rule 1.16 is just one of many such rules that lawyers must adhere to, to be in good standing and avoid detrimental penalties if the rules are flouted.
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