It is the general rule in the United States, and New York that the client, either for good cause or for no cause, may terminate an attorney’s representation at any time. While the difference between “for cause” and “no cause” has been endlessly debated, a “for cause” termination may be based upon misconduct which does not rise to the level of attorney malpractice.in which, but for the negligence of the attorney there would have been a different or better result is not the same as good cause for termination. Termination for cause has arisen in many situations in which malpractice was not even discussed, much less claimed. Substantial delays in prosecuting the case, failure timely to obtain medical records, failure to retain an employment [which] contravenes specific legal requirements is sufficient, abandonment of a case, a conflict of interest, a refusal personally to try a case, a failure to disclose a settlement offer, are all examples of misconduct which does not amount to malpractice.
The difference flows logically from the question of damages. In malpractice there is a positive claim for damages, over and above fee considerations from the attorneys; in the question of termination for cause, there can be but a reduction of the fees paid, but no positive claim for damages. As one might expect, the burden of proof for malpractice requires much more than the burden of proof to decide between “good cause” and “no cause.”