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Ending a retainer: when is it ethical to do so?

Abusive behaviour and failure to respond to clear instructions are valid reasons to terminate a retainer, but firms must nevertheless tread carefully, warns Mena Ruparel

29 May 2019

A couple of weeks ago, the COLP at a firm of solicitors contacted me to ask whether I could help with an urgent ethics query. 

They had been experiencing. some difficulties with an erratic client. To the best of their knowledge the client did not have any vulnerabilities that they needed to take into account, other than the fact that he was involved in complex litigation. 

He was not being forthcoming with documents or clear instructions, and he had recently started to bombard the solicitor with emails, none of which addressed any of the outstanding points.

His emails became increasingly abusive, and he subsequently complained about the increased costs, which arose as a direct result of the dozens of emails he sent in the middle of the night.

The solicitor suspected that he might suffer from mental health issues or that he was abusing drink or drugs; hence the midnight tirade.

The day after each one of these episodes, he would apologise to the...

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