After having screened a prospective client, conducted a conflicts check, and gathered information through an initial consultation, you must tell him or her whether or not you will provide representation. Following are sample letters of engagement, non-engagement and disengagement.
A letter of engagement welcomes a new client, confirms a conference time, delineates the specific matters to be handled by your firm and sets forth the terms of the relationship.
If you have decided not to represent someone, it is especially important that you provide, in writing, a non-engagement or declination letter. The non-engagement letter should not make any judgment about the merits of the client's case, but should urge the client to be mindful of time constraints in legal matters. Ideally, this letter should be sent certified mail, return receipt requested. Be sure that all original documents are returned to the client with this letter.
In some cases, sending either an engagement letter or non-engagement letter may be inappropriate or impossible. These situations include a person seeking to file for divorce (whose spouse does not know of the intention) or other cases where the receipt of a letter would be indiscreet. One solution is to give the letter to the person at the end of the initial consultation.
It is equally important to document the end of a representation, whether it is because the legal matter is over, or because either the lawyer or the client is ending it.
A disengagement letter indicates your intention to remove yourself from the case, the reason for this decision, and any end of representation letter should also cover specific information concerning statutes of limitation and the return of documents in the client's file.
When the client is initiating the break, it is helpful to have a form letter or release to smooth the transition from one lawyer to another. This would serve to both notify the first lawyer and authorize transfer of confidential information.