Moving from attorney representation to self-representation

Often times I will have to coach a client about how to effectively end a relationship with an attorney who they have been working with and walk away with their case files at the same time. There are times when an attorney will want to hold on to the files which then makes it difficult for the parent to pick up where they left off. This can be especially damaging if a child support collection case is at hand and it means that the parent now has to start from scratch. The good news is that you shouldn’t have to!

It is incumbent for the attorney to provide a full copy of the clients file upon request. The file belongs to the client and the attorney must act expeditiously so as to not jeopardize your case. Rule 3-700(D)(1) of the Rules of Professional Conduct requires that once employment has been terminated that the file is returned to the client “promptly”. Promptly is not a specific time frame so it depends on the circumstances.

The attorney has to go through the files and remove personal notes, their work product and make copies of relevant documents. If the case is closed and there is no further work to be done, my personal opinion is that 30 days would not be unreasonable. If the case is going to court in one week, then my opinion would be that 1 day is more than reasonable.

The solution would be for the client to make a decision on what direction the case is going in and then write a letter to the attorney based on that and send it certified mail, return receipt with a drop dead date of when you expect to receive your file. If you expect your case to continue in any way, holding onto your file could cause you to suffer prejudice such as the inability to properly represent yourself or to meet court deadlines. The state bar has disciplined attorneys for failing to turn over files promptly, hence making your request in writing so you have a record of the timing. Cite the applicable authority above. You should also ask your attorney to inform you if any work product is being withheld (thoughts, legal research, and impressions of the attorney that were never communicated to you).

Taking back your case sometimes is a necessary evil when the attorney has not been effective, when you run out of funds and can no longer pay or when the attorney/client relationship is not a good fit.



  1. Nelson says:

    Great information Simone! Is thes option necessary more often than we realize?

  2. Thanks, Nelson. Clients always have the ability to end their relationships with their attorneys and clients should always ask to take their case files with them. Most people don’t realize that they should.

  3. Ed says:

    Suppose the client still owes the attorney some money and has decided to take the case over themselves because they can no longer afford attorneys fees. Does the attorney have the right to get paid before releasing the clients files?

Leave a Reply