Monday, August 4, 2008

Office Policy No Defense To Failure To Provide Client File

The Arkansas Supreme Court Committee on Professional Conduct reprimanded an attorney who, after representation of a client and his business had ceased, rebuffed repeated attempts by new counsel to obtain the client's file. He had informed the client's new counsel that "it was his firm's policy to not provide clients' with their files." He also had been contacted by the Office of Professional Conduct prior to the filing of formal charges and advised the Executive Director that it was his "longstanding practice and policy that files in his law office were his property." After a hearing, a violation of Rule 1.16(d) was found. (Mike Frisch)

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"Yes, it is the official and formal policy in this law firm to contact the represented client on the other side of the case. We do it every time and follow the policy meticulously. Opposing clients say the darnedest things! Often their attorneys call me and yell, but this is ridiculous because I always inform them of our firm firm policy. I even offer to send them our handbook which says so. One time someone at the licensing board contacted me about all this, but I told her about our policy so she won't be writing back. We also call the newspaper and tell them things our clients have told us, if they are juicy. That is our policy."

Posted by: Alan Childress | Aug 4, 2008 8:40:19 AM

The same attorney was suspended in 2003 for violation of several other rules, including 1.4(a) in not replying to a client for a year after many repeated requests. He did not respond to the bar. I am surprised that this history was not mentioned and used as aggravation in the current matter.

Maybe it is the implication that he was winding down his practice anyway, so no harm to future clients... EXCEPT that one of the things his office told a client in the prior matter, circa 2000, was that he was no longer practicing law. I wonder if this is like one of those electronic stores that is constantly going out of business. Anyway, the files rule is so clear and strict, and his chances and warnings to comply so repeated, that I am shocked he was just reprimanded and slightly fined.

Imagine how frustrating this must be to the (immigrant family) client, who is told by everyone else that the files actually are the client's and there is a clear ethics rule on this. The result must seem to a client like everyone is doing everything they can to excuse the lawyer in the face of a clear rule. One with a history of serious discipline, no less. I feel for that client -- and the public reputation of the bar.

Posted by: Alan Childress | Aug 4, 2008 9:08:32 AM

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