AR: Underlying litigation
Facts: Mansour was one of two attorneys client Vang Lee hired to represent him in a lawsuit. When Attorney #2 (also named Lee) left for a month-long vacation, he left instruction for Mansour to schedule a pretrial conference between the parties of the suit. Soon afterwards, Attorney #2 became unresponsive to any attempts Mansour made at communication. After several failed attempts, Mansour sent two letters to Attorney #2 informing him that if he did not hear from him, he would have no choice but to request withdrawal from the case. Mansour did not copy Client Lee either letter. When Attorney #2 failed to respond, Mansour requested withdrawal indicating that he and Client Lee did not communicate, that Client Lee would not be prejudiced by his removal because Attorney #2 spoke Client Lee’s native language, and that Attorney #2 was in possession of all necessary paperwork for the case. The court granted the withdrawal. Unfortunately, because Mansour did not inform Client Lee of the withdrawal or Attorney #2’s lack of communication, Client Lee failed to appear at the pretrial conference and a judgment was entered against him.
Issue: Whether a court’s granting of an attorney’s request for withdrawal from a case precludes the attorney from a malpractice suit on that basis.
Ruling: No. Arkansas Rule of Civil Procedure 64 provides that an attorney, in his desire to withdraw from a case, must take steps to avoid any foreseeable prejudice to his client, including giving due notice to his client, allowing time for employment of other counsel, and has tendered or stands ready to tender any client papers and unearned fees. Mansour’s failure to communicate the date of the pre-trial conference, and his knowledge that Attorney Lee had become unresponsive to any communication was a foreseeable prejudice to Client Lee. Mansour took no steps to avoid such prejudice.
Lesson: In choosing to withdraw from a case, an attorney must be certain to provide to the client all proof of notification and communicate all issues that might impede or prejudice his case, including that of an unresponsive co-counsel, thereby allowing the client a chance to mitigate his or her damage caused by Attorney #2.