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End-of-life notice: American Legal Ethics Library

As of March 1, 2013, the Legal Information Institute is no longer maintaining the information in the American Legal Ethics Library. It is no longer possible for us to maintain it at a level of completeness and accuracy given its staffing needs. It is very possible that we will revive it at a future time. At this point, it is in need of a complete technological renovation and reworking of the "correspondent firm" model which successfully sustained it for many years.

Many people have contributed time and effort to the project over the years, and we would like to thank them. In particular, Roger Cramton and Peter Martin not only conceived ALEL but gave much of their own labor to it. We are also grateful to Brad Wendel for his editorial contributions, to Brian Toohey and all at Jones Day for their efforts, and to all of our correspondents and contributors. Thank you.

We regret any inconvenience.

Some portions of the collection may already be severely out of date, so please be cautious in your use of this material.

Ohio Rules of Professional Conduct

Comment 1.16

[1] A lawyer shall not accept representation in a matter unless it can be performed competently, promptly, without improper conflict of interest, and to completion. Ordinarily, a representation in a matter is completed when the agreed-upon assistance has been concluded. See Rules 1.2(c) and 6.5. See also Rule 1.3, Comment [4].

Mandatory Withdrawal

[2] A lawyer ordinarily must decline or withdraw from representation if the client demands that the lawyer engage in conduct that is illegal or violates the Ohio Rules of Professional Conduct or other law. The lawyer is not obliged to decline or withdraw simply because the client suggests such a course of conduct; a client may make such a suggestion in the hope that a lawyer will not be constrained by a professional obligation.

[3] When a lawyer has been appointed to represent a client, withdrawal ordinarily requires approval of the appointing authority. See also Rule 6.2. Similarly, court approval or notice to the court is often required by applicable law before a lawyer withdraws from pending litigation. Difficulty may be encountered if withdrawal is based on the client’s demand that the lawyer engage in unprofessional conduct. The court may request an explanation for the withdrawal, while the lawyer may be bound to keep confidential the facts that would constitute such an explanation. The lawyer’s statement that professional considerations require termination of the representation ordinarily should be accepted as sufficient. Lawyers should be mindful of their obligations to both clients and the court under Rules 1.6 and 3.3.


[4] A client has a right to discharge a lawyer at any time, with or without cause, subject to liability for payment for the lawyer’s services. Where future dispute about the discharge may be anticipated, it may be advisable to prepare a written statement reciting the circumstances.

[5] Whether a client can discharge appointed counsel may depend on applicable law. A client seeking to do so should be given a full explanation of the consequences. These consequences may include a decision by the appointing authority that appointment of successor counsel is unjustified, thus requiring self-representation by the client.

[6] If the client has severely diminished capacity, the client may lack the legal capacity to discharge the lawyer, and in any event the discharge may be seriously adverse to the client’s interests. The lawyer should make special effort to help the client consider the consequences and may take reasonably necessary protective action as provided in Rule 1.14.

Optional Withdrawal

[7] A lawyer may withdraw from representation in some circumstances. The lawyer has the option to withdraw if it can be accomplished without material adverse effect on the client’s interests. Withdrawal is also justified if the client persists in a course of action that the lawyer reasonably believes is illegal or fraudulent, for a lawyer is not required to be associated with such conduct even if the lawyer does not further it. Withdrawal is also permitted if the lawyer’s services were misused in the past even if that would materially prejudice the client. The lawyer may also withdraw where the client insists on taking action that the lawyer considers repugnant or with which the lawyer has a fundamental disagreement.

[8] A lawyer may withdraw if the client refuses to abide by the terms of an agreement relating to the representation, such as an agreement concerning fees or court costs or an agreement limiting the objectives of the representation.

Assisting the Client upon Withdrawal

[8A] A decision by a lawyer to withdraw should be made only on the basis of compelling circumstances, and in a matter pending before a tribunal he must comply with the rules of the tribunal regarding withdrawal. A lawyer should not withdraw without considering carefully and endeavoring to minimize the possible adverse effect on the rights of the client and the possibility of prejudice to the client as a result of the withdrawal. Even when the lawyer justifiably withdraws, a lawyer should protect the welfare of the client by giving due notice of the withdrawal, suggesting employment of other counsel, delivering to the client all papers and property to which the client is entitled, cooperating with counsel subsequently employed, and otherwise endeavoring to minimize the possibility of harm. Clients receive no benefit from a lawyer keeping a copy of the file and therefore can not be charged for any copying costs. Further, the lawyer should refund to the client any compensation not earned during the employment.

[9] Even if the lawyer has been unfairly discharged by the client, a lawyer must take all reasonable steps to mitigate the consequences to the client.

Comparison to former Ohio Code of Professional Responsibility

Rule 1.16 governs withdrawal from representation and replaces DR 2-110.

Rule 1.16(a)(1) corresponds to DR 2-110(B)(1) and (2), Rule 1.16(a)(2) corresponds to DR 2-110(B)(3), and Rule 1.16(a)(3) corresponds to DR 2-110(B)(4).

Rule 1.16(b)(1) generally corresponds to DR 2-110(A)(2).

Rule 1.16(b)(2) corresponds to DR 2-110(C)(1)(b).

Rule 1.16(b)(3) corresponds to DR 2-110 (C)(1)(c).

Rule 1.16(b)(4) corresponds to DR 2-110(C)(1)(c) and (d).

Rule 1.16(b)(5) corresponds to DR 2-110(C)(1)(f).

Rule 1.16(b)(6) corresponds to DR 2-110(C)(1)(d).

Rule 1.16(b)(7) corresponds to DR 2-110(C)(5).

Rule 1.16(b)(8) corresponds to DR 2-110(C)(7).

Rule 1.16(b)(9) corresponds to DR 2-110(C)(6).

Rule 1.16(c) is identical to DR 2-110(A)(1).

Rule 1.16(d) corresponds to DR 2-110(A)(2) and also requires the withdrawing lawyer to promptly return client papers and property to the client. “Client papers and property” are defined as including correspondence, pleadings, deposition transcripts, exhibits, physical evidence, expert reports, and other items reasonably necessary to the client’s representation.

Rule 1.16(e) is identical to DR 2-110(A)(3) except that the reference to the sale of a law practice rule is appropriately designated as Rule 1.17.

Comparison to ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct

Rule 1.16(b)(2) is revised to change “criminal” to “illegal.” This allows the lawyer to withdraw when the client persists in a course of action involving the lawyer’s services that the lawyer reasonably believes is illegal. This would include violations of statutes or administrative regulations for which there are no criminal penalties.

Rules 1.16(b)(7) and (8) are added to recognize additional circumstances in which withdrawal may be permitted.

Rule 1.16(d) is revised to include a list of items typically included in “client papers and property.” This provision is further modified to require that a withdrawing lawyer must afford the client a reasonable time to secure new counsel. Comment [8A] is added to elaborate on the duties of a lawyer who is contemplating or effectuating withdrawal from representation.