Under the Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct, may a lawyer, who is departing a law firm, take the firm’s only copy of client files in which the lawyer personally represented the clients and delete client files, documents, or data from the firm’s electronic document repository and devices without approval of the law firm?
Various clients engaged a law firm, which assigned a lawyer to handle the client representations. Later, the assigned lawyer decided to leave the firm. The legal services agreements provided that the clients engaged the law firm for representation and did not identify the departing lawyer as their sole counsel or grant that lawyer the authority to determine the disposition of the firm’s client files, documents, and data.
While departing the firm, the lawyer took various client files upon which the lawyer had worked, including the firm’s only copies of its paper files and copies of client files, documents, and data maintained in the firm’s electronic document repository and on its devices. The lawyer then deleted all the electronic client files, documents, and data from the law firm’s electronic document repository and devices. Thus, the law firm was left without any client files, documents, or data.
The lawyer refused to provide copies of the client’s paper files or its electronic files, documents, or data to the law firm and refused to identify the client information that was taken or deleted. The lawyer refused to provide letters from the clients to the law firm authorizing transfer of the files. But the lawyer did indicate that copies of the client files would be provided to the affected clients upon those clients’ direct requests to the lawyer.
Tex. Comm. On Professional Ethics, Op. 684 (2019)