New Jersey has established the Rules of Professional Conduct for attorneys. Rule 1.16 of the Rules of Professional Conduct deals with the termination of professional services. It is possible for a NJ attorney to withdraw from any case when a client requests that the attorney engage in behavior that he fundamentally disagrees with. RPC Rule 1.16 deals with the specifics of how and when a NJ attorney can withdraw from representation.
Section a of Rule 1.16 states that there are some instances where a lawyer is not allowed to represent a client; or if representation has already commenced, the rule explains that a lawyer is allowed to withdraw from representation under certain circumstances. The lawyer must withdraw or must not take a client if the result of the representation will be a violation of the Rules of Professional Conduct or if it violates any other law. When a lawyer’s mental or physical abilities are impaired such that they are incapable of proper representation the attorney may withdraw from the case. And if the lawyer is discharged they may withdraw as well.
Section b of Rule 1.16 states certain circumstances in which an attorney may withdraw from representing a client. If the withdrawal can be done in such a way that it does not have an adverse effect on the client’s interest. When it is evident that the client has used the services of the lawyer in order to perpetrate a fraud or crime; or if the lawyer feels that the client is persistent in following a course which is criminal or fraudulent then the lawyer can legally withdraw their representation.
When a lawyer has a fundamental disagreement with a client or the client continues to insist that the lawyer take a course of action which the lawyer feels to be repugnant, then they may withdraw in these cases. The NJ attorney may also withdraw from representation if the client substantially fails to fulfill their reasonable obligations to the lawyer. However, in these cases, the lawyer must have given reasonable warning that they will withdraw if the obligations are not fulfilled in a timely manner. If the representation of a client becomes an unreasonable burden on the lawyer financially, the lawyer may withdraw from the case. Another condition for which a lawyer can withdraw is if the lawyer has been rendered unreasonably difficult by the client. As a general rule, lawyers cannot withdraw from a case once representation has begun unless a good cause to withdraw exists.
Section c explains that legal ethics require a lawyer to comply with all applicable laws which require the lawyer to give proper notice when terminating the representation of a client. When the lawyer is ordered to provide representation by a tribunal, the attorney must continue representation unless there is a good reason that the representation be terminated.
The final section of the Rules of Professional Conduct, Rule 1.16 outlines certain steps that must be taken when an attorney terminates representation of a client. The withdrawal of representation must not compromise the interests of the client. For instance, the attorney must offer a reasonable notice and allow time for the client to obtain other counsel. All papers and property that the client is entitled to should be surrendered and if there has been any advanced payment of fees for services which have not been earned; these must be refunded to the client upon termination of representation. While an attorney cannot assert a common law which retains lien, they may retain any papers which relates to the client as is permitted by the law.