When you hire a lawyer, you enter into a legal relationship based on trust and confidence. This means that your lawyer has a fiduciary duty to act in your best interests and to protect your rights. This duty requires that your lawyer puts your interests ahead of their own. The Rules of Professional Conduct do not explicitly state whether an attorney should notify the firm of an impending departure before notifying clients.
However, most ethics boards strongly recommend that lawyers notify the firm of their impending departure before notifying clients, as the firm's lawyers have a fiduciary duty to treat each other fairly and honestly. In addition to their representative functions, lawyers can also act as neutral third parties, helping the parties involved in a dispute or other matter to resolve it. Lawyers must also dedicate time and resources to improving the law, access to the legal system, the administration of justice, and the quality of service provided by the legal profession. They must also help the bar association to regulate itself in the public interest. When a lawyer leaves a firm, the files of their former clients must remain in the hands of the firm, unless both the firm and the outgoing lawyer agree otherwise and the former clients give their informed consent to the transfer of the files to the custody of the departing lawyer. Disclosures for this purpose are not allowed until the lawyer and the potential new firm have engaged in “substantive discussions” about the new relationship. Lawyers may also have authority on behalf of their clients or employers to decide on a settlement or whether to appeal an adverse judgment.
If a client contacts the firm or outgoing lawyer for additional information about a lawyer's departure or its impact on their representation, lawyers must provide whatever is reasonably necessary to help them make an informed decision. At all times, lawyers must strive to uphold ethical standards and ensure equal access to our justice system for all those who cannot afford or obtain adequate legal advice due to economic or social barriers. The responsibilities of a lawyer as a client representative, legal system official, and public citizen are often harmonious.