The answer is probably covered by your written retainer agreement which you should have received. The file belongs to you as the client unless you agreed to pay a fee to copy for the attorney.
The above is general legal and business analysis. It is not "legal advise" but analysis, and different lawyers may analyse this matter differently, especially if there are additional facts not reflected in the question. I am not your attorney until retained by a written retainer agreement signed by both of us. I am only licensed in California. See also avvo.com terms and conditions item 9, incorporated as if it was reprinted here.
The file is yours. However, whether the lawyer can charge you a copying fee depends upon your retainer agreement.
The information presented here is general in nature and is not intended, nor should be construed, as legal advice. This posting does not create any attorney-client relationship with the author (who is only admitted to practice law in the State of California). For specific advice about your particular situation, consult your own attorney.
The file is yours and he must release it immediately to you and he cannot charge you for a copy, although he may make a copy for himself at HIS cost. To "hold your file hostage" is a violation of the state Bar rules of professional conduct (Rule 3-700 (D)) which is written as follows:
(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;"
You may have already paid him for the cost of it under the "costs" provision of your retainer agreement anyhow. Cite the Rules section to him and you'll get your file today.
The attorney has a legal duty to provide your file to you free of charge no matter what the retainer says. If the attorney wants to copy it is at his own expense. This is a basic rule pursuant to the California Rules of Professional Responsibility that every attorney should know and abide by.
No attorney/client relationship is or shall be created by this response on Avvo to non-clients of The Law Offices of Norman Gregory Fernandez.
I don't practice in California but in Missouri and Kansas the file is the property of the client and must be given to the client if they ask. The lawyer is entitled to keep a copy.
Sign up to receive a 3-part series of useful information and advice about personal injury law.