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Firing or Withdrawal of Counsel During Litigation

Duties to the Client; Impact on Litigation; Collection of Fees; Effects on Malpractice Claims

Recording of a 90-minute CLE webinar with Q&A

This program is included with the Strafford CLE Pass. Click for more information.
This program is included with the Strafford All-Access Pass. Click for more information.

Conducted on Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Recorded event now available

or call 1-800-926-7926

This CLE course will address the panoply of complex issues arising out of a change of counsel during pending litigation. Changes can be client caused (i.e., firing counsel) or counsel caused (i.e., withdrawal). Regardless of the cause, both old and new counsel have obligations to the client and to the court, which, if ignored, can cause the client great trouble and expense.


Relationships fail, and the attorney-client relationship is not immune from failure, even during the do-or-die environment of litigation. Clients become dissatisfied and fire lawyers; clients become dissatisfied and stop paying, so lawyers withdraw. Conflicts and other ethics concerns may force the issue. When one lawyer leaves, another appears, and this disruptive change adds uncertainty and legal duties to an already messy situation.

When the client is in control--that is, when the client fires the lawyer--the client is subject to some restrictions. Although an individual can appear pro se, an entity cannot, so the client is required to hire a replacement. If that replacement needs extra time to get up to speed, that time might not be available, as courts prefer not to prejudice other parties when a client fights with its lawyer. Finally, replacing the first attorney may prevent a client from pursuing a malpractice claim against that lawyer.

Withdrawal by the lawyer is not automatic. Unless the client consents and has replacement counsel, a court might not permit the withdrawal, even if the withdrawal relates to nonpayment. The withdrawing (or fired) lawyer has a duty to transition the case to replacement counsel and should consider whether it is wise to sue the former client for unpaid fees.

Listen as trial lawyers who have been in these vexing situations share their valuable insights on these issues and the legal and practical situations they encountered along the way.



  1. Termination by client
    1. No reason is needed
    2. Entity clients must have new counsel
    3. Client termination can impact future malpractice claims
  2. Withdrawal by attorney
    1. Process for withdrawal--consideration of what to make public
    2. No issue if by consent and replacement in place
    3. Possible dispute if no consent, a court must grant a motion
  3. Issues regardless of who terminates
    1. Time deadlines may or may not change
    2. File transition to new counsel
    3. Payment


The panel will review these and other items at the core of this topic:

  • What are the ways lawyers and clients can end their relationship during the pending litigation?
  • Can anyone outside the lawyer/client relationship impact the decision to end the relationship?
  • What are the continuing duties of the former attorney?
  • Are there any effects of the termination outside of the litigation itself?


Clair, Alanna
Alanna Clair


Ms. Clair's practice focuses on professional liability and law firm defense, insurance coverage and bad faith...  |  Read More

Kelly, Jessica
Jessica G. Kelly

Sherin & Lodgen

Ms. Kelly is an experienced litigator who helps clients resolve complex business, real estate, and professional...  |  Read More

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