Legal Ethics Opinion 1485

Termination of Representation: Requiring Client Signature as
Receipt for Having Delivered Client File

You have indicated that a client who lives near counsel's office
and is able to travel to it comes to the attorney's office and
angrily demands her file.  Counsel agrees to provide the file,
but asks client to sign a receipt which says "I have been given
my file and advised that the statute of limitations will pass on
my case on (a date two weeks hence)".  You further indicate that
client does not disagree with the content of the receipt but
refuses to sign it.  Counsel refuses to release file without a
signature on the receipt,fearing that the client might in the
future deny having received the file.  Instead, counsel mails the
file to the client via certified mail, restricted delivery,
return receipt requested, with a cover letter stating that the
file is enclosed and reminding client of the statute of
limitations date.

You have asked the committee to opine whether, under the facts of
the inquiry, it is proper for an attorney to refuse to deliver a
client's file, instead mailing it immediately to the client via
certified mail, restricted delivery, return receipt requested. 
You have further inquired if such mailing would be proper if
failure to deliver the file immediately because of the client's
unreasonable refusal to sign a receipt would prejudice the client
due to an approaching statute of limitations.

The appropriate and controlling disciplinary rule relative to
your inquiry is DR 2-l08(D) which requires a lawyer, upon
termination of representation, to take reasonable steps for the
continued protection of a client's interests, including
reasonable notice to the client, allowing time for the employment
of other counsel, and delivering all papers and property to which
the client is entitled.

The committee has consistently opined that a client's file
consists of all work the attorney has done on the client's matter
and that the file is the property of the client.  Additionally,
the cd that the attorney must surrender the file on demand except
where he may lawfully refuse to do so.  See, e.g., LEOs #l366,

In response to your inquiry, the committee is of the opinion
that, although good office practice may dictate that the attorney
obtain a receipt or other evidence of delivery of a client's file
to the client, DR 2-l08(D) does not contain any such requirement
and the continued protection of the client in this case would be
served better by immediate delivery of the file to the client
than by mailing it by certified mail, return receipt requested.

Committee Opinion
February 9, 1993