Alaska Alaska Ethics Opinion 2011. 2011-1. ALASKA BAR ASSOCIATION ETHICS OPINION 2011-1Must a lawyer provide the original file to a former client on request, rather than a copy?Question Presented If a former client asks a lawyer to provide his original file to him or to his new attorney, must the lawyer provide the original file rather than a copy? Conclusion Yes. The file belongs to the client, and the lawyer must provide the original file, rather than a copy, to the client or the client's new attorney, if the client requests. Discussion Previous opinions address a lawyer's obligation to provide materials from his or her file to a former client, when the client requests.(fn1) These opinions focus principally on which materials in a file must be provided, and which if any may be withheld. But an earlier opinion, Ethics Opinion No. 95-6 also provides an answer to the question that most recently has been asked:
[T]he client's original files are the property of the client. Accordingly, a lawyer must make available to his or her client all papers and property to which the client is entitled, and may not make receipt of them contingent upon payment for copying. . . .
A lawyer may not charge the client for making a copy of the original documents for his or her own purposes.The Committee now reiterates explicitly what is implicit in Ethics Opinion 95-6: The lawyer may make a copy for his or her own purposes, at the lawyer's own expense, but the lawyer must provide the original file to the client or the client's new counsel if requested. To the extent that previous opinions from this Committee may inadvertently suggest that the lawyer could keep the original and give the client the copy,(fn2) the Committee disavows that suggestion. This opinion does not modify any prior opinion with respect to which materials in a file may be withheld completely.(fn3) Neither does this opinion modify the obligations imposed by statute or court rule not to disclose certain materials directly to a client.(fn4) This opinion also does not impose any new obligations on the attorney for file maintenance. The point is simply that, when a client requests his or her file, the lawyer must provide the...
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