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Court Holds That Client Cannot relitigate Attorney’s Withdrawal in Malpractice case

The Supreme Court of Washington has held that a client who sues his former attorney for legal malpractice may not allege that the lawyer’s withdrawal from the underlying case was improper if that withdrawal was approved by a judge.

The court succinctly puts the issue this way:

In this case, former clients are suing their attorneys for legal malpractice based, in part, on the attorneys’ withdrawal from a prior case. But the attorneys obtained that withdrawal by court order. In the original case, the former clients appealed the court’s order approving withdrawal, and that appeal was rejected. The attorneys thus argue that collateral estoppel applies to bar a malpractice action based on their withdrawal. We agree. We hold that the fact of withdrawal by court order in an earlier proceeding is dispositive in a later malpractice suit against the attorney. Although other malpractice complaints unrelated to the withdrawal would not be precluded, a client cannot relitigate whether the attorney’s withdrawal was proper. If we are to have rules permitting attorney withdrawal, we must allow attorneys to have confidence in those rules. We, therefore, reverse the Court of Appeals.

I disagree with the reasoning of this decision. Judges grant motions to withdraw as a matter of routine, and do not typically take the time to determine if the client will be prejudiced. As a result, some clients may be severely prejudiced when their lawyer abandons them at a key stage in the litigation.

Source: SCHIBEL v. EYMANN, Wash: Supreme Court 2017 – Google Scholar

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