Some legal situations have a clear start, and a clear finish. For instance, a deal is proposed between two people, negotiations happen, a contract is drawn up, then revised, then signed. The deal proceeds and the event is concluded. Everyone goes on with their lives. A good example of this is a home purchase. Closing occurs, money exchanges hands, new deeds are filed. The new people move in. All done.
But this is not always the case. There can be lingering or ongoing issues, or new issues that arise. This can happen over the course of days, weeks, months, years, or decades.
If you had an attorney representing you, it is important to know that representation does not continue forever. (There are certain exceptions, such as when a business client pays a monthly retainer, or a contract with the lawyer specifically states that the attorney will remain employed for a specific period or series of events).
Generally, once the case is closed, it is closed. The attorney does not actively continue to represent you. S/he does not have the obligation or the authority to speak for you forever nor to handle new situations from the old case that occur after the case is closed, unless the two of you contract for these new services.
Therefore, when new aspects of your old case occur it is important that you, personally, get in direct contact with your attorney to be certain that everyone is completely clear on representation and responsibilities. Don’t just leave a voice message or email and assume that the lawyer will jump back into the situation.
Payment to your attorney for legal services is one issue. There are other issues as well. It is very important to understand who is going to follow up (you or the lawyer). If there is a deadline in the (new/reopened) case, a request for information from another lawyer, a court hearing, or negotiations your (former) attorney cannot speak for you, sign for you or negotiate anything for you if s/he is not specifically authorized to do so. Unless and until you and your former lawyer agree that you will be working together in the new case, you are not represented by legal counsel and his/her hands are tied.
A former client who has become used to having a quick response when involved in an active case may not realize that they can’t just take up where they left off a few weeks, months or years ago.
The attorney will need to speak with you, get information on the new and changed circumstances and you will need to re-engage the attorney’s services.
If a legal case that you had becomes active again, or a related case arises out of the old case, you may want to hire your former attorney again. When clients tell us that they want to hire us again, we feel honored and proud! We also need to insist that we handle it professionally by creating a new and updated contract and a new file.