Do Lawyers Have to Take Cases? Can They Dismiss Clients?

Question: Can a lawyer dismiss a potential client?

The asker wants to know if a lawyer can refuse to take a client, or dismiss them if they don’t want to continue representation.

First, private lawyers cannot be forced to take a case they do not want to take. Or rather, a private law firm cannot be forced to take a case it doesn’t want to take. Certainly, a partner in a firm can order an associate to take a case, but that is a different issue. The best thing to do is screen the case and the client right at the start. But it takes some time to learn what cases to take and what cases not to take. Some lawyers do feel pressure to take every case that comes through the door. Rarely is this a good idea.

Once I take a client on, I can dismiss them with one major caveat. If I have begun suit, I will need to get permission from the court to withdraw. In most cases, the judge would allow me to withdraw, unless the withdrawal would harm the client. It is more common to be refused leave to withdraw in a criminal case than a civil case. At least when trial is close or has already begun.

Also, I could not withdraw from a case, even if I hadn’t yet placed it in suit, in such a way that it would hurt the client. In other words, once I take on a case I have ethical obligations surrounding how I handle it, including a decision to terminate the client/attorney relationship.

Public defenders can be forced to take a case. They are required to provide defense to anyone who cannot afford a lawyer in a criminal case. Normally there is someone who decides within the office which attorney will take which case. Cases would be assigned the same way for prosecutors, but a prosecutor at a certain level would have to decide to bring the case in the first place.

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