Monthly Archives: August 2014

How Can You “Fire” Your Clients?

In another South Carolina appellate court opinion intended, in my opinion, to send a clear message to the bar that the practice of law in this State is first and foremost a profession with inherent professional responsibilities, on August 27, 2014, the South Carolina Court of Appeals in a published opinion in the case of Tuten v. Joel stated the following in part:

“The principle that an attorney may not unilaterally withdraw from an attorney-client relationship without notice to the client is fundamental to the fiduciary nature of legal representation (citations omitted throughout) (‘Strong policy considerations dictate that a client…must be unequivocally informed when an attorney intends to withdraw from representing a party, for whatever reason.’  ‘An attorney who undertakes the conduct of an action impliedly stipulates to carry it to its termination and is not at liberty to abandon it without…reasonable notice.’).

The contrary position – taken by Joel – that an attorney’s uncommunicated choice to withdraw from representation is effective unless the attorney ‘leads the client to believe he is still the lawyer’ is indefensible and fails as a matter of law.  The position is so rarely taken that courts have hardly ever been called upon to write about it.  (‘It is well settled that an attorney who wants to withdraw from representing a client must notify the client in advance and notify the client of the grounds for withdrawal even in a situation where a client ‘effectively disappeared’ and (the) attorney (is) unable to contact (the client)’).

An attorney is not free to withdraw from the relationship absent notice to his client and in determining when the attorney-client relationship is terminated, the court must point to an affirmative act by either the attorney or the client that signals the end of the relationship. (‘…most courts require that before an attorney can unilaterally sever the attorney-client relationship, he must give reasonable notice to his client of his intention to withdraw, and, noting, further requirements are necessary if the withdrawal involves a matter pending in court’).” (Emphasis added)

In protecting your professional position – in the event you have reached an irreconcilable point in your relationship with your client – I might suggest that you consider doing the following (this list is far from being all-inclusive):

  • Contact Professor John Freeman for his expert advice (of interest, Professor Freeman was the plaintiff’s expert witness in this case).
  • Craft a detailed and carefully worded retainer agreement which provides an exact template to be followed by your client and you in the event you reach a point where it is necessary to sever the attorney-client relationship.
  • “Reasonable notice” to me means that, unless your client has gone AWOL, you should conduct an in-office conference with your client, allowing the client to retrieve his/her file and sign all releases of representation previously addressed in your retainer agreement (but remember that if a case is pending in court, you must get a court order relieving you as the attorney-of-record).  If I were you, I would be careful not to interpret “reasonable notice” as meaning that you can simply send a letter, email or text message to your client.  Because there are professional risks involved when you have reached the point where you feel you have no choice but to “fire” your client, don’t take the path of least resistance when ending this critical relationship.





Qualified Medical Child Support Orders

If you frequently (or routinely or never) use qualified medical child support orders (QMCSO) in your family court cases, their intent is to protect your clients in addressing health insurance issues and continued coverages for children of divorcing parents.  I have only occasionally seen that issue raised or addressed in mediations around the State.
Medical child support orders are statutorily recognized in South Carolina Code Ann. Section 63-17-2120.
There was also an interesting unpublished opinion filed on December 20, 2011, by the South Carolina Court of Appeals in the case of Williams v. Williams in which this was one of the trial issues.  Briefly, the mother had requested during trial that the family court judge require the father (and the father’s employer) to agree to the issuance of a QMCSO.  The father’s attorney (and, with qualifications, the father) conceded to the court that the father did not oppose this request; however, the judge failed to order it, and the Court of Appeals reversed and remanded, indicating that the on-the-record “stipulation” bound the father to comply with the mother’s request.
You may want to take another look at the QMCSO to see if it may be of benefit to your clients.  It applies to group health insurance plans subject to ERISA laws.  I found a pretty good website at which provided a substantial amount of information on QMCSOs.


“QDROs Demand The Attention Of CPAs” – an article by Ray A. Knight, CPA/PFS, J.D., and Lee G. Knight, Ph.D

My CPA had sent me these materials on QDROs last week, and this weekend I had a chance to read it.
This recent article, “QDROs demand the attention of CPAs”, was authored by Ray A. Knight and Lee G. Knight.
I realize that most (if not all) family law attorneys “farm out” these QDROs to other attorneys or law firms or individuals who or which prepare your QDROs for you (e.g., it’s quicker, it’s cheaper, they know what they’re doing and I don’t, etc., etc.); however, in the “world of unintended consequences” inhabited by us family law attorneys, ultimately you are the one professionally and ethically responsible for protecting the financial futures of your clients well into their future(s).
Consequently, it may help if you have a working knowledge of the basics of QDROs, and this seemed to be an excellent article for your review.  I hope you’ll take the time to read it.