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Lawyer-client representation can be lengthy and tumultuous.  In almost every legal case, both criminal and civil, the stakes are high and it can take years for things to be resolved.

So it’s no wonder that relations between clients and lawyers break down and, in some cases, end prematurely with the lawyer’s withdrawal.

Nevertheless, there are strict rules controlling when and how a lawyer can withdraw from a case.

The rules are provided in Rule 1.16 of the Supreme Judicial Court Rules of Professional Conduct.

According to Rule 1.16(a), a lawyer must withdraw from a case if

  • representation will violate the law or any of the professional conduct rules,
  • the lawyer’s mental or physical condition negatively impairs his ability to represent the client; or
  • the client has discharged/fired the attorney.

Section (b) of Rule 1.16 provides the circumstances in which a lawyer may withdraw from the lawyer-client relationship.  These circumstance exist when

  • the lawyer’s withdrawal will not have a “material adverse effect on the interests of the client”;
  • the lawyer reasonably believes that the client is engaged in fraudulent or criminal activities;
  • the lawyer’s services were used by the client to commit fraud or some other crime;
  • the lawyer has a fundamental disagreement with the client’s actions or finds the client’s actions “repugnant”;
  • the client “fails substantially to fulfill an obligation to the lawyer regarding the lawyer’s services”;
  • the lawyer will experience an “unreasonable financial burden” as a result of the representation; or
  • “other good cause for withdrawal exists.”

Despite these rules, a lawyer must seek permission from the court in order to withdraw.  See Rule 1.16(c).  Additionally, a court-appointed attorney must seek permission to withdraw from the court which initially appointed him to the client.