When can a Maryland attorney assert a retaining lien?

Maryland Rule 2-652(a) provides an attorney who has provided legal services to a client may retain the papers of the client in his possession until the attorney’s claim for fees is satisfied, unless the retention of the client’s papers would be prejudicial to the client.  See Rule 1.16(d) of the Maryland Lawyers’ Rules of Professional Conduct (“Upon termination of representation, a lawyer shall take steps to the extent reasonably practical to protect a client’s interest, such as . . . surrendering papers and property to which the client is entitled”).

A retaining lien permits the attorney to “secure” his claim for unpaid fees through retention of client property in his possession. The attorney must have performed services for the client, for which the attorney was entitled to recompense, in order to validly assert the retaining lien. See Attorney Grievance Comm’n v. McIntire, 286 Md. 87, 405 A.2d 273 (1979) .

When a Maryland attorney asserts a retaining lien, he must inform the client of the liquidated amount of unpaid fees and expenses. Reasonably clear and understandable substantiation of how the attorney arrived at those liquidated amounts must also be offered.  In Attorney Grievance Comm’s v. Rand ____ Md. ___ (2015), the attorney was not entitled to assert a retaining lien, because he had failed to submit periodic invoices as required by the parties’ fee agreement and the invoices themselves contained duplicative entries.




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