There have been interesting developments on the topics addressed in the two most recent articles in this column. In January we discussed “Withdrawing From ‘Problem’ Clients—Consider a New Year’s Resolution” (N.Y.L.J., Jan. 8, 2018). We focused on the circumstances when withdrawal is permitted under New York’s Rules of Professional Conduct (RPC) 1.16, and on two recent cases that each demonstrated the importance of clarity in lawyers’ communications with their clients if they are seeking to end representation. Then on January 29, the New York State Bar Association Committee on Professional Ethics issued Formal Opinion 1144 on the subject of Communications with Client; Withdrawal from Representation of Difficult Client (Opinion 1144). Opinion 1144 is significant because it focuses on communications between lawyers and clients before withdrawal becomes appropriate.

A lawyer had been assigned by the court to represent a defendant in a criminal case where the client had previously been represented by other lawyers. The client had previously unsuccessfully sought to have the current lawyer relieved from his assignment, and the lawyer sought the opinion of the Committee as to whether it is proper to impose restrictions on the time and manner of communications with the client, including specific limitations with respect to scheduled appointments and written communications, in light of the fact that the client is, as reported by the lawyer “physically intimidating, verbally abusive, and often nonresponsive,” in addition to having mental health issues for which the client is being treated.

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