Can Your Attorney Drop Your Case Due to Health Concerns?

Navigating the legal world often involves understanding not just the laws that govern a particular case but also the intricacies that affect attorneys, their duties, and their rights. One such question that frequently arises is whether an attorney can withdraw from a case for health or mental reasons. Here, we delve into this issue.

The Basics of Attorney Withdrawal

Attorneys have the right to withdraw from representing a client, but this right is not absolute. Two main scenarios dictate the process of withdrawal:

  1. If the Legal Matter Isn’t In Court: In instances where the legal issue isn’t currently in court, an attorney doesn’t need the court’s permission to withdraw. They can do so as long as they provide the client with adequate time to secure another attorney. The withdrawal shouldn’t come at a critical time, like just before a deadline.
  2. When the Case is In Court: The situation gets a bit more complex. Many court rules require the attorney to seek permission from the court before withdrawing. This is standard in most criminal cases, federal courts, and many state civil courts.

In some states, like Minnesota, if no imminent deadline looms in a civil case, an attorney might be able to withdraw without the court’s permission. However, this hinges on the attorney adhering to the state’s ethics rules regarding proper reasons for withdrawal.

Guided by Ethics Rules

Each state has its own set of ethics rules governing attorneys. These rules often spell out the conditions and proper procedures for an attorney to withdraw from representing a client. In general, they dictate that an attorney can withdraw as long as they’re not contravening any laws and have given the client proper notice.

It’s also worth noting that apart from health concerns, attorneys might sometimes need to withdraw due to disagreements with clients, or if clients refuse to heed their advice.

Can An Attorney Withdraw from Some Clients But Not Others?

It is crucial to understand that every client and case is unique. As long as the reasons aren’t discriminatory or against specific rules, an attorney can decide to withdraw from one client’s representation and not another’s. Legitimate reasons might include conflicts, time constraints, or the attorney’s belief that they can’t offer the best representation for that particular client.

Understanding Illegitimate Reasons for Withdrawal

Some reasons are outright unacceptable. Discrimination based on skin color, religion, or other protected classes is not only unethical but also illegal. Attorneys must base their decisions to withdraw on non-discriminatory reasons.

The Need for Proof

While the topic of withdrawing due to health or mental reasons is clear-cut in many aspects, the question of proof can be a gray area. Typically, proof isn’t mandatory unless specified by court rules or particular ethics guidelines. When required, the proof might come in various forms – a statement under oath, medical records, or an opinion from a licensed medical professional.

However, it’s important to stress that the degree of proof required, and its form, largely depends on the court in which the attorney is practicing. Judges, based on the rules of the state or federal court, have a wide latitude in deciding what they can require of attorneys.

In Conclusion

The essence of the matter is this: Attorneys can generally withdraw from cases for health or mental reasons. However, the processes and requirements for such withdrawals are governed by each state’s attorney ethics rules and the rules of any courts in which the attorney is currently engaged. As always, when in doubt, referring to these rules and seeking guidance is the best course of action.

Video Transcript

Can an Attorney Withdraw From a Case for Mental or Health Reasons Without Proof?

Okay, there are two-piece ways to look at this. So an attorney wants to withdraw. If this is not a legal matter presently in court, then you don’t need to get any court’s permission, and usually, an attorney can withdraw as long as they give enough time for the client to find another attorney to take over the case. For example, you can’t do it right before a deadline as an attorney but attorneys have a right to withdraw for mental or health reasons, usually, as long as they do it in the right way and with enough time.

Understanding Ethics Rules

You might say, “Well, what is the right way? And what is enough time?” For that, we would look to the laws that govern the attorney’s license. They are usually called the Ethics Rules. Every state has ethics rules that govern attorneys. And so you would look at the withdrawal from representation of a client section of the ethics rules. But usually, what they say is, “An attorney can withdraw as long as it is not prohibited by law and as long as the attorney gives proper notice.” And frankly, sometimes attorneys just aren’t getting along with clients or the clients won’t take the attorney’s advice. So the attorney can withdraw for that or other personal reasons.

Court Rules on Attorney Withdrawals

Now, if the case is in court, then the question is, “Do court rules require the judge to give permission for the attorney to withdraw from the case?” As a general rule, courts require the attorney to get permission from a court. This is true in most criminal cases. This is true in most federal courts. This is true in many civil courts in various states.

In Minnesota, if there is not enough coming deadline and it is a civil case, usually the attorney can simply withdraw without the court’s permission. That assumes the attorney is doing it for the proper reasons as provided in state ethics rules.

Choosing Which Cases to Leave

Is it okay for an attorney to withdraw from one client for mental or health reasons but not all clients?

Assuming that state rules and court rules do not prohibit an attorney from withdrawing from a specific case or a specific client. Usually, the attorney can withdraw from a client’s representation for any reason or no reason. It could simply be, “I don’t have enough time.” Or, “The client and I have conflict.” Or, “I don’t believe I can do the best work for this client that the client deserves.” Or other legitimate reasons of that type.

What are illegitimate reasons? Well, you can’t say, “Oh, I don’t like the client’s skin color.” Or, “I don’t like the client’s religion.” That is discrimination. You generally can’t do that. There are certain protected classes for discrimination, but for non-discriminatory reasons, generally, an attorney can withdraw for other reasons. And that means withdrawing from one client where there might be a lot of conflict, turmoil, or stress and not from other clients.

Do Attorneys Need Health Proof?

There was a question of whether an attorney has to provide proof of health or mental health reasons when withdrawing. Usually, there is no proof required unless a court or a specific ethics rule requires it. That proof might be simply a statement under oath from the attorney. So it may not be outside documentation, but it is possible that the attorney would need to provide additional detail, like, “I recently consulted with this licensed medical professional who has given an opinion that I should withdraw from this case.” Or the attorney might provide medical records of some sort, or the attorney might provide a statement from the medical professional that says they need to withdraw.

Judges have a lot of flexibility in what they can require of attorneys based on the specific rules for state or federal court. So, the short answer is generally, an attorney can withdraw without proof of mental or health reasons, but all of this is subject to each state’s attorney ethics rules and any courts where that attorney is currently appearing or on file. The attorney will need to follow the court rules and any requirements issued by the judge in that case.


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I am Aaron Hall, an attorney for business owners and entrepreneurial companies. It was a pleasure talking with you today and answering your questions from an educational perspective. As I always say, before you rely on any of this, consult with an attorney. It is my hope that you use these questions to identify topics and questions to bring up with your attorney. Until the next live session, I hope you are doing well. Take care.