Legal Ethics

Top Mass. Court Puts Law Firm Back on Med-Mal Client's Case, But Says Firm Can Select Attorney

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When an individual lawyer at Thomas M. Kiley & Associates cited both a plan to withdraw temporarily from the practice of law and irreconcilable differences with a medical-malpractice client, the state court judge overseeing the case allowed her to withdraw.

But he ordered the law firm to continue with the contingency-fee case, requiring name partner Thomas M. Kiley personally to file an appearance. Kiley sought interlocutory relief, arguing that the representation had been terminated.

The Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts agreed in written opinion today that the firm could not abandon its client.

Absent misconduct on the client’s part or other good cause for withdrawal, “where, as here, the client enters into a representation agreement with a law firm rather than a sole practitioner, the law firm may not terminate the agreement simply because the attorney who had been handling the case has died, left the practice of law, or moved to a different firm,” the court writes. “While the departure of the responsible attorney may cause the client to leave the firm, it may not cause the firm to leave the client if withdrawal will have a material adverse effect on the client’s interests and none of the circumstances requiring or permitting withdrawal is present.”

However, the trial court went too far in ordering Kiley himself to file an appearance on the med-mal client’s behalf, the supreme court ruled, saying that the firm had discretion to choose which attorney to assign.

The Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly also summarizes the case in its blog, The Docket.

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