The Florida Bar
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PROFESSIONAL ETHICS OF THE FLORIDA BAR

OPINION 69-1
March 28, 1969

In the absence of any controlling provision in a partnership agreement or other instrument or of consent by the continuing firm, or of specific instructions from the client in question, a withdrawing partner has no right to remove from the partnership premises files on which he may have worked while a member of the firm.

Canons: 7 and 33

Chairman MacDonald stated the opinion of the Committee:

Members of The Florida Bar advise that one member recently withdrew from their partnership, leaving the remaining partners to continue the firm practice. The withdrawing partner, upon the discontinuance of his association with the firm, removed a considerable number of files from the firm offices to his new office. The firm did not consent in advance to this removal and desires their return; the withdrawing partner, who had performed substantially all of the work in connection with the files in question, is of the view that he is directly responsible for the clients and that the files should not be returned until the clients specifically so request.

The continuing firm and the withdrawing partner commendably all seek our guidance in this controversy, recognizing the validity of the proposition that it is for the client to decide who shall represent him, and limiting their disagreement to the identity of the proper possessor of the files pending such designation.

We observe at the outset that is entirely likely as a matter of law that all of the inquiring individuals, both the withdrawing partner and the continuing firm, may have legal obligations in connection with the handling of the various legal matters which may be involved in the files described. The nature and scope of these obligations might vary dependent upon the subject matter of the files. In all events, there are involved questions of law beyond our purview. However, as to the matter of legal ethics here involved, it is our decided view that in the absence of any controlling provision in a partnership agreement or other instrument, and in the absence of consent by the continuing firm, a withdrawing partner has no right to remove from the partnership premises files on which he may have worked while a member of the firm in advance of specific instructions from the client whose work is encompassed by the file in question.

We concur in the suggestion advanced by the continuing firm that a dignified and appropriate notice of the withdrawal be submitted to the clients involved with an appropriate request that instructions be given.

[Revised: 08-24-2011]