Release of File to Former Co-party
Opinion rules that a lawyer in possession of the legal file relating to the prior representation of co-parties in an action must provide the co-party the lawyer does not represent with access to the file and a reasonable opportunity to copy the contents of the file.
Husband and Wife were represented jointly by Attorney A on a personal injury claim. During the settlement negotiations, Husband and Wife separated and subsequently divorced. The personal injury claim was settled. An equitable distribution claim is pending in which the proceeds of the personal injury settlement are in dispute.
After the personal injury claim was settled, the legal file for the matter was released by Attorney A to Husband's new lawyer, Attorney Z. Wife is represented in the domestic action by Attorney L. Wife and Attorney L asked Attorney Z to make the personal injury file available to Wife for copying, but Attorney Z refuses to release any of the contents of the file to either Wife or Attorney L. Should Attorney Z allow access to the personal injury file?
Yes. When there is joint representation of parties in a particular matter, each party is entitled to access to the legal file after the representation ends. See RPC 178. Although Attorney Z is not required to incur the expense of making a copy of the personal injury file for Wife, he must give Wife a reasonable opportunity to copy the materials in the file at her own expense. Id. Attorney Z should not release any confidential information of Husband that was received by Attorney A or Attorney Z after the joint representation in the personal injury matter ceased. Rule 4(b).