Can my family law solicitor choose to no longer represent me?

A family law solicitor can choose to no longer represent you; however, it is an exceptional course of action, and they must have a good reason for doing so. This is confirmed by the Solicitors’ Code of Conduct 2007 (rule 2.01(2)).

When you first instruct a solicitor, they will set out the terms of their “retainer” stating when they may stop acting for you. If a solicitor wishes to cease acting for a client, then they must write to them first, explaining the reasons and what the client must do if they do not want to be sacked. It will usually contain a deadline date to comply by. If the solicitor fails to do this and gets rid of the client anyway, they will be in breach of contract and may not be entitled to be paid.

What are the reasons a solicitor can give for sacking a client?

The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) also provides guidance on when a solicitor may terminate a client’s instructions. These include issues such as:

  • The client failing to pay their bills or comply with the solicitor’s reasonable requests for information or instructions.
  • The solicitor discovering a conflict of interest that cannot be resolved.
  • The solicitor feeling that they are unable to provide the necessary level of service or expertise required by the client. For example, the case may start being a family law matter, but then require other legal expertise such as in areas of commercial law. Or, it could simply be that the solicitor was based in London but has relocated to Sheffield and so they no longer feel thay can provide their service from afar.
  • The client has behaved in a way that makes it impossible for the solicitor to continue acting, such as being abusive or threatening.
  • A breakdown in trust and confidence
  • The client insisting the solicitor do something that would put the solicitor in breach of their professional obligations.

It is important to note that a solicitor can only terminate the retainer if there is a valid reason, such as a breach of the client’s obligations or a conflict of interest. If a solicitor terminates the retainer without a valid reason, they may be in breach of their professional obligations and may face disciplinary action.

Does a solicitor have to give the client notice before sacking them?

According to the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA), a solicitor must give their client notice before terminating the retainer. This is because the relationship between a solicitor and client is a contractual one, and as such, both parties have certain obligations to each other.

The SRA Code of Conduct for Solicitors requires that a solicitor must give their client “reasonable notice” before termination, unless there is good reason not to do so. What constitutes reasonable notice will depend on the circumstances of the case, but could involve the complexity of the matter, the stage of the proceedings, and the impact on the client of ceasing to act.

In addition to giving notice, the solicitor must also provide the client with any documents or information they need to enable a new solicitor to take over their case. This includes copies of all relevant correspondence, court documents, and any other materials that may be necessary for the client to continue their case. However, solicitors are permitted to retain client files until any outstanding bills are paid. This is called exercising a “lien” and is perfectly legal.

Letting a client go is always a decision of last resort and a solicitor will have given it a great deal of thought before doing so. But if they feel they have no choice but to cease acting, they should fully explain the circumstances to the client in writing and provide them with reasonable notice.


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