It’s Not You, It’s Me… Okay, It’s You: How to Withdraw from Representing a Client in Ohio

No lawyer wants to face the problem of withdrawing from representation of a client, but most will. Although many lawyers see withdrawal as a straightforward affair, the Rule 1.16 provides numerous ways for a lawyer to stumble.

When considering withdrawal for one of the reasons set forth in the rule, a lawyer should consider above all (1) the timing of the withdrawal, and (2) whether the client would suffer any harm or prejudice as a result.

On timing, a lawyer must seek and obtain any required permission of the tribunal, which obviously takes time. A court considering a motion for withdrawal must ensure that the Rules of Professional Conduct are followed. Northern Eagle, Inc. v. Kosas, Eighth Dist. No. 2007 CVF 024343, 2009-Ohio-4042, ¶ 32. Because filing a motion to withdraw can raise concerns about violation of the attorney client privilege, withdrawing lawyers may want to seek the assistance of ethics counsel in presenting such a motion.

Further, the withdrawing lawyer must protect the client’s interest “to the extent reasonably practicable.” That sounds like typical lawyer-speak, but there are numerous cases in which lawyers have been reprimanded (sometimes severely) for failure to adhere to Rule 1.16. As just one example, see Cincinnati Bar Assn. v. Lawson, 119 Ohio St.3d 58, 2008-Ohio-3340.

Heed the Rule and avoid jumping from the frying pan of a problematic client into the fire of an ethical violation.