What Is the Meaning of Motion to Withdraw?

By Wayne Thomas - Updated June 19, 2017
A lawyer working at his desk

Having an attorney represent you in court can alleviate the stress of trying to understand trial procedures and rules on your own. Usually, the lawyer you hire provides his services until the case is resolved, but sometimes an attorney wishes to terminate his representation early. This process typically requires permission from the court, and it is requested by the lawyer through a Motion to Withdraw.

Purpose of Motion to Withdraw

A motion to withdraw is a written request to a judge asking for permission to end the lawyer's representation of a client while a case is pending in court. The motion must be in a certain format under local court rules, and the attorney must specify a reason for the the withdrawal. If the court approves the motion, the lawyer will no longer be responsible for acting on behalf of the client and he must return his files. The client can then either move forward with a different attorney or by himself.

Grounds for Withdrawal

States can vary when it comes to appropriate grounds to seek withdrawal. In some states, withdrawal is required if a lawyer is fired by the client, is asked to do something that violates the rules of professional conduct, or if the lawyer becomes mentally or physically unable to properly represent the client. There are also optional grounds for withdrawal, which typically include cases where the client asks the lawyer to do something the lawyer finds to be strongly against his moral values, cases where the client fails to pay, or if the client used the lawyer's services to commit a crime.

Objecting to the Motion

Although state procedure can vary, an attorney must provide written notice to those involved in the case -- including the other attorneys and his client -- after he has filed a motion to withdraw. In some states, this must be done a certain number of days before the date the attorney wishes his withdrawal to take effect. After receiving notice, the client and other attorney have an opportunity to object and the court rules on the matter. In some states, if no objection is made within a certain period of time, the withdrawal will become effective without an order from the court.

The Court's Role

Unless withdrawal is required under the court rules, the court considers the client's interests when ruling on any objections. Specifically, the judge must make sure that the client will not be unfairly prejudiced if the lawyer leaves the case before it is resolved. For example, the court might deny a request to withdraw based on nonpayment of legal fees if the withdrawal date is the night before the trial. By contrast, the court might be more likely to allow an attorney to withdraw at the very first stages of a lawsuit when there is still plenty of time for the client to find another lawyer or prepare to represent herself.

About the Author

Wayne Thomas earned his J.D. from Penn State University and has been practicing law since 2008. He has experience writing about environmental topics, music and health, as well as legal issues. Since 2011, Thomas has also served as a contributing editor for the "Vermont Environmental Monitor."

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