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I have asked MY attorney (personal injury) to give me a copy of my file. He tells me that he needs at least a week to give me th

Los Angeles, CA |
Filed under: Professional ethics

I have asked MY attorney (personal injury) to give me a copy of my file. He tells me that he needs at least a week to give me the file and he would have a legal copying service come to his office to make the copies and charge me. Is there a time statue on providing the file and is it ethical to have a copying service make copies to make my cost more instead of his staff making the copies?

Attorney Answers 3


If your case has resulted in a large file, then a week isn't unreasonable, and for the same reason, the lawyer may not be able to devote a staff member and their copy machine to getting you copies faster than a week. One deposition transcript alone can take someone hours to copy.

No, there's no deadline in the code or per the State Bar, just rules that say that you're absolutely entitled to your file, and your lawyer can't withhold it, even if you owe the lawyer money.

The files belongs to you, and if you're firing your lawyer, your lawyer should pay the cost of keeping copies if they want to keep copies. But if you haven't fired your lawyer and are asking for copies for yourself while your lawyer keeps your originals, then it's ok that the lawyer is charging you for copies, and ok that your lawyer is sending your file out to be copied so it doesn't disrupt their business.

It seems that it would be cheaper to drop your file off at Kinklos than to have a copy service go to their office, but if your file is being worked on, maybe they don't want to let it out of their office. Why don't you offer to go there and make the copies?

Disclaimer: Please note that this answer does not constitute legal advice, and should not be relied on, since each state has different laws, each situation is fact specific, and it is impossible to evaluate a legal problem without a comprehensive consultation and review of all the facts and documents at issue. This answer does not create an attorney-client relationship.

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California's Rules of Professional Conduct 3-700 applies to this situation. Here is how it reads:
"D) Papers, Property, and Fees.
A member whose employment has terminated shall:
(1) Subject to any protective order or non-disclosure agreement, promptly release to the client, at the request of the client, all the client papers and property. "Client papers and property" includes correspondence, pleadings, deposition transcripts, exhibits, physical evidence, expert's reports, and other items reasonably necessary to the client's representation, whether the client has paid for them or not; and
(2) Promptly refund any part of a fee paid in advance that has not been earned. This provision is not applicable to a true retainer fee which is paid solely for the purpose of ensuring the availability of the member for the matter."

The original is YOURS. The attorney can make a copy at his/her expense (UNLESS the engagement agreement reads otherwise). If the attorney will not give up the file then you can complain to the State Bar and they will investigate.

If you need the file right away because of something happening right away on the case then put this in writing and send it to your lawyers in a way that will let you prove that they got this letter (and make a copy for your use).

You might want to quote this part of the Rule in the letter to your lawyer so he/she knows that you know about the Rule.

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I agree with the other contributers in their assessment of your rights. The key question is whether you have discharged the attorney or not. If you have discharged the attorney, then the original file is yours and the discharged attorney would be responsible to pay for copying the file. If you are merely seeking a copy of the file for your own benefit but are keeping the attorney, then a week certainly does not seem like an unreasonable amount of time depending upon the size of the file.

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