Attorney work product and clients with unpaid bills (Illinois)

As some of you know, I’m a paralegal at a law firm. It’s slow today, and I’m at work trying to make sense of a project one of the partners assigned me. Unfortunately, none of the people who might be able to provide further guidance are around on Christmas Eve, so here I am.

I’d appreciate being pointed in the right direction on the following:

  • Can an attorney withhold work product from a client because of unpaid bills? If so, under what circumstances?

  • How can a creditor report unpaid client bills to credit bureaus?

Citations would be appreciated. Thanks in advance. In the meantime, I will continue noodling around semi-aimlessly.

:: bump :: hoping that people are actually working today.

Foolish question, I’m sure, but have you looked at the Illinois ethics rules? Most state rules have guidance on terminating representation and on the lawyer’s duty of confidentiality.

Just call the ARDCs ethics hotline and ask about question #1

This is really a call the responsible lawyer needs to make. I’d say either put it off until he’s back in the office, or call him at home for clarification.

I started reading through them last week, but my eyes started to glaze over. I will pick up later. I don’t know that this has anything to do with terminating representation; it may just be a general question.

I don’t know that it even has anything to do with a specific case, and I was specifically told it wasn’t time-sensitive. If I can’t figure it out, I’ll wait until she is back in the office.

was that bolding really necessary?

IMHO, yes. I find it annoying that so many people assume that any given attorney is male. Especially in the area of law I work in; most of the immigration attorneys I’ve worked with over the past 10 years, and a majority of the ones in my current firm, are women.

using the masculine pronoun in that sentence is not an assumption of anything. it’s a frickin linguistic device used to avoid the inartful “he/she”.

Sorry, it’s a pet peeve of mine, as a linguist and as a feminist.

as a linguist you should appreciate the distinction in context between a bona fide unwarranted assumption and usage to improve readability and author convenience.

As a linguist, it annoys me to no end that so many people fail to make gender distinctions in their usage. I understand the distinction, but no, I don’t appreciate it.

Now can we please get back to the actual OP?

Ok, enough of the arguing about pronouns.

[not moderating]
Whether it pertains to a particular file or not, it usually requires an attorney’s review. Most jurisdictions recognize an attorney’s retaining lien in the clients file. The attorney’s lien is possessory, which means you get to hold on to the file until you get paid. But the lien gets trumped by the client’s need for the file. If keeping the file would prejudice the client’s interests, the lawyer must hand it over. In other words, it’s complicated and you won’t be able to develop a bright line rule for when you can keep it and when you can’t.

[/not moderating]

Yeah, I figured that if holding the client’s file would lead to the client, say, being deported, we wouldn’t be able to do it (nor would we even if it were allowed). But much of what we do isn’t terribly time-sensitive (relative petitions which will be pending for years if not decades, naturalization, that sort of thing). I think the request was with an eye to developing some sort of internal guidelines.

Attorney “work” product (i.e. not the end product) may or may not constitute a part of the client’s file, so even if you are under a requirement to turn over the “file” what exactly the contents of that file is is also a complex question.

Good point. See ISBA 94-13 & 94-14 discussed in the first link. Aparently Illinois is one of a minority of staes that recognizes this distinction. See

Here is the link that Gfactor was trying to provide.

The article cites an Illinois ethics opinion that may be on point, but you either have to be a subscriber or a member of the bar to access it.

Thanks for that stuff. Someone around the office ought to be an ISBA member; I’ll have to poke around.

nevermind. apparently there was some cookie hanging around.