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Can an attorney hold on to my personal documents after I terminated his service?

Patchogue, NY |

I went to consult with a real estate attorney about representing me to sell my home. He obligated me to give him a $500 deposit and took all my personal documents (original title, death certificate, surveys etc). He was going to send me a retainer agreement but when I finally got, it was not what we originally agreed upon. I didn't sign it and therefore I terminated his services in writing and asked for my personal documents back. I was shocked when he demanded another $1000 before he returned my documents.  I don't feel that he did any work that warrants him to bill me for additional money on top of the original deposit. 

I requested my documents in writing, by phone, I even went to his office and waited but he wouldn't release them to me.

Does he have the right to do so?

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Attorney answers 4

Best Answer

Send a letter certified mail, return receipt requested to demand the return of the documents forthwith. If the lawyer refuses, then follow the advice of Mr. Natoli and file a grievance.

If this answer is helpful, then please mark the helpful button. If this is the best answer, then please indicate it. Thanks. For further information you should see an attorney and discuss the matter completely. If you are in the New York City area, then you can reach me during normal business hours at 718 329 9500 or


As you describe the situation it sounds odd and I cannot think of nay good reason this lawyer believes he is entitled to another $1000.

I would reach out to the office I am linking you to below and see if they can be of any assistance. You have a right to any and all copies or originals especially if you never retained the lawyer. Just so you understand, layers are required to keep records typically up to fours years, but this does not mean you have no right to them and this only applies to clients not anyone that happens to walk into your office looking for services:

Best regards,
Natoli-Lapin, LLC
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The law firm of Natoli-Lapin, LLC (Home of Lantern Legal Services) offers our flat-rate legal services in the areas of business law and intellectual property to entrepreneurs, small-to-medium size businesses, independent inventors and artists across the nation and abroad. Feel free to call for a free phone consultation; your inquiries are always welcome: CONTACT: 866-871-8655 DISCLAIMER: this is not intended to be specific legal advice and should not be relied upon as such. No attorney-client relationship is formed on the basis of this posting.


It depends on what your agreed to pay. If you still owe money the attorney may have a retaining lien.

I am a former federal and State prosecutor and have been doing criminal defense work for over 16 years. I was named to the Super Lawyers list as one of the top attorneys in New York for 2012 and 2013. No more than 5 percent of the lawyers in the state are selected by Super Lawyers. Martindale-Hubbell has given me its highest rating - AV Preeminent - in the areas of Criminal Law, Personal Injury, and Litigation. According to Martindale-Hubbell”AV Preeminent is a significant rating accomplishment - a testament to the fact that a lawyer's peers rank him or her at the highest level of professional excellence." Fewer than 8% of attorneys achieve an AV Preeminent rating. I also have the highest ranking – “superb” – on Avvo. The above answer, and any follow up comments or emails is for informational purposes only and not meant as legal advice.


In addition or in lieu of filing a grievance, write to him demanding the arbitration form under Part 137 if he is claiming that the total value of his services is $1,000 or more.

If you found this "helpful" or "best answer," please click it with my appreciation. My response is for educational purposes and does not constitute legal advice nor creates an attorney client relationship which requires all the details and a personal conference.

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