Commercial Division Blog

Posted: January 25, 2023 / Written by: Jeffrey M. Eilender, Samuel L. Butt, Seth D. Allen, Joshua Wurtzel, Hillary S. Zilz / Categories Commercial, Account Stated

No Delay Required Before Attorneys Withdraw Where There’s Breakdown of Attorney-Client Relationship

In a Decision and Order, dated July 25, 2022, in Adler v. Mitchell, Index No. 650805/2019, Justice Robert R. Reed of the New York County Commercial Division granted the Order to Show Cause to Withdraw as Counsel filed by defendants’ counsel where defendants had stopped paying counsel’s fees. The Court explained:

CPLR 321 (b) (2) provides:

"[a]n attorney of record may withdraw or be changed by order of the court in which the action is pending, upon motion on such notice to the client of the withdrawing attorney, to the attorneys of all other parties in the action or, if a party appears without an attorney, to the party,

and to any other person, as the court may direct."

However, an attorney's right to withdraw as counsel is not absolute (see Matter of Jamieko A., 193 AD2d 409, 410, 597 N.Y.S.2d 72 [1st Dept 1993]). An attorney may withdraw "only...upon reasonable notice to the client" (Vargas v Go. W Entertainment, Inc., 28 Misc 3d 1223(A), 2010 NY Slip Op 51476 (U), * 4 [Sup Ct, NY County 2010][internal quotation marks and citations omitted]). Cermele & Wood LLP's motion to withdraw as counsel for defendants David Mitchell and Mitchell Holdings LLC is granted. Cermele & Wood have demonstrated a breakdown of the attorney-client relationship. Defendants engaged the subject law firm, agreed to compensate the firm's invoices promptly upon receipt, and that despite the invoices, defendants have failed to pay such fees in full even though they have not disputed the charges (see Weiss v Spitzer, 46 AD3d 675, 675, 848 N.Y.S.2d 237 [2d Dept 2007] [holding "[a]n attorney may be permitted to withdraw from employment where a client refuses to pay reasonable legal fees"]; Mars Prods. Corp. v U.S. Media Corp., 198 AD2d 175, 603 N.Y.S.2d 487 [1st Dept 1993][holding "[t]he order granting counsel leave to withdraw was not an abuse of discretion, since there had been a long history of nonpayment by the client"]; Galvano v Galvano, 193 AD2d 779, 780, 598 N.Y.S.2d 268 [2d Dept 1993] [holding "[i]t is well settled that an attorney will be permitted to withdraw from employment where a client refuses to pay reasonable fees"]).

The attorneys at Schlam Stone & Dolan frequently litigate disputes between service professionals, including lawyers, and their clients. Contact our attorneys at commercialdivisionblog@schlamstone.com if you or a client have questions regarding these types of matters.