Release of Title Notes to Former Client
Opinion rules that a former residential real estate client is not entitled to the lawyer's title notes or abstracts regardless of whether such information is stored in the client's file. However, a lawyer formerly associated with a firm may be entitled to examine the title notes made by the lawyer to provide further representation to the same client.
Editor's Note: This opinion was originally published as RPC 227 (Revised).
Attorney A is a real estate lawyer with Law Firm X. Two years ago, Attorney A represented Client 1 in the closing of the purchase of a house and lot. Client 1 recently requested her real estate file from the firm. What documents does Law Firm X have to give to Client 1?
Rule 2.8(a)(2) requires a lawyer who has withdrawn from the representation of a client to deliver to the client "all papers and property to which the client is entitled." RPC 178 cites CPR 3 for the proposition that
a lawyer must provide a former client with originals or copies of anything in the file which would be helpful to the new lawyer except "the discharged lawyer's notes made for his own future reference and study and similar things not representing a completed work product."
See also CPR 3, CPR 315, CPR 322, CPR 328 and Rule 2.8(a)(2).
After a residential real estate transaction is completed, the client is entitled to originals or copies of the documents which were generated solely in connection with the client's closing, including the following: the deed to the property, plats, title opinion, title insurance policy, all closing documents, all documents prepared for the lender and other third parties, correspondence, memoranda regarding the client's transaction only, and documents referenced in the client's deed or title opinion. The client is not entitled to the lawyer's title notes, abstracts, or copies of documents not prepared solely for the client's transaction regardless of whether such information is stored in the client's file.
Are the title notes, the title opinion, copies of deeds, and other similar documents in the file considered "work product" which Law Firm X can refuse to return to Client 1 or her designated attorney?
See opinion #1 above.
While a shareholder in Law Firm X, Attorney B was retained by Client 2 to represent her in the refinancing of her home. Attorney B supervised his paralegal in performing a title search, prepared a title opinion, obtained title insurance, prepared closing documents, and otherwise represented Client 2 in refinancing her home. Attorney B subsequently resigned from Law Firm X and opened his own practice. Client 2 has retained Attorney B to assist her in another refinancing of her home. In accordance with Attorney B's advice, Client 2 requested her original refinance file from Law Firm X. Law Firm X refused to release the file to Client 2, contending that all of the title notes and other information contained in the file, other than the actual title policy, are the "work product" of Law Firm X and Client 2 is not entitled to receive the originals or copies of this material. Attorney B's representation of Client 2 on the new refinancing would be facilitated by the receipt of the title notes from the prior refinancing. May Law Firm X refuse to provide Client 2's file, or a copy of the materials contained therein, to Client 2 or her attorney?
No. See opinion #1 above. If a lawyer who was formerly associated with a law firm asks the law firm for the file of a client the lawyer represented while he was a member of the firm and the use of the lawyer's title notes will assist the lawyer in providing further representation to the same client, in addition to giving the lawyer the originals or copies of the documents noted in opinion #1 above, the law firm must give the lawyer access to the title notes made by the lawyer (or by a paralegal of the firm acting at the lawyer's direction) during the previous representation of the client while the lawyer was still a member of the law firm. This opinion is subject to the file maintenance and destruction guidelines in RPC 209.
Is the response to inquiry #3 affected by the fact that a paralegal employed by Law Firm X performed the actual title search?
Other clients of Attorney B when he was a member of Law Firm X have asked Law Firm X to forward their files, or copies thereof, to Attorney B. May Law Firm X refuse to send the files, or copies of the files, to Attorney B?
No. See opinion #3 above.