Inside Track: Ethical dilemmas: Unhappy client won't pay, and he wants his files:

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    Sept. 21, 2011 – Ethical dilemmas affect every lawyer’s practice. This series of questions and answers appears each month in InsideTrack. The answers, offered by State Bar’s ethics counsel org tpierce wisbar Timothy Pierce, are intended to provide guidance only and are not legal authority. Each situation will depend on the facts and circumstances involved.

    Question

    My client owes me more than $5,000 in fees, and I have asked him repeatedly to make some effort to become current. In our last conversation, the client told me that I wasn’t worth what I charged and demanded his file in order to go to another lawyer. I told him that he could have his file when he paid copying charges of 10 cents per page. He then told me that he wasn’t asking for a copy – he wanted his file. Can’t I expect him to pay the costs of copying the file?

    Answer

    No. The file is the property of the client and must be provided when requested by a client seeking other representation. The lawyer is responsible for the costs of making the lawyer’s copy of the file.

    References: SCR 20:1.15, SCR 20:1.16(d); State Bar of Wisconsin Formal Ethics Opinions E-82-7, E-95-4 and E-00-03; OLR Public Reprimand 2005-09.

    Previous questions

    For more information, visit the Ethics webpage on WisBar.