Providing Client with Copies of Documents from the File
Opinion rules that a lawyer is not required to provide a former client with copies of title notes and may charge a former client for copies of documents from the client's file under certain circumstances.
Attorney represented Ex-client on a number of real estate transactions prior to the termination of the employment. Attorney provided Ex-client with the original documents or copies of most of the pertinent documents at the time of the closing for each real estate transaction. All of the real estate transactions Attorney handled for Ex-client were completed and Attorney no longer represents Ex-client. Ex-client has asked Attorney to provide him with copies of the documents in his closed real estate files. Attorney has provided Ex-client with copies of deeds, maps, title opinions, title insurance policies, correspondence and all of the significant information regarding the purchases and the loans for Ex-client's respective properties. He has not provided Ex-client with copies of his title notes. Attorney considers his title notes to be work product which often involves using base title notes for subdivisions or title notes from other files as well as the conveyance list files maintained by Attorney's law firm. Is Attorney ethically required to provide Ex-client with a copy of the title notes for the properties?
No. Although Rule 2.8(a)(2) requires a lawyer to deliver to a former client "all papers ...to which the client is entitled," the comment to the rule notes that "[t]he lawyer's personal notes...need not be released." See also CPR 3.
If Attorney does not condition the delivery of the copies to Ex-client on the payment of his bill for prior legal services, may Attorney charge Ex-client for the copies he delivers to Ex-client of documents which Attorney had already provided to Ex-client at the time of the closings?
Yes. When Attorney delivered the original documents to Ex-client at the time of the closings for the real estate transactions, he fulfilled the requirements of Rule 2.8 (a)(2). If Attorney kept copies of these original documents, Attorney may charge Ex-client for any additional copies which Attorney makes for Ex-client but attorney may not condition the delivery of these copies to Ex-Client on the payment of his bill for legal services. If Attorney retained in his office files any original documents from Ex-client's real estate transactions, Attorney must bear the cost of making copies for Ex-client until such time as he delivers the original documents to Ex-client.