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In The Firm (1993), at the conclusion of all the turmoil that Mitch McDeere has caused, the Moroltos (the mafia mobsters who were the biggest client of the firm) want to catch him — assuming that he is now on the run. Much to their surprise, he just turns himself in.

At 2:21:24, they ask him:

— So what was this stealing of the files? What the fuck was this all about?

— The files haven't been stolen. They're in exactly the same place they were. I just felt it was important for me to be thoroughly familiar with the precise make-up and whereabouts of all your holdings and activities. So I prepared copies of everything. That way you and I can communicate perfectly. And, of course, if we ever have to talk to a third party, then I know everything, right down to the penny, pound, Franc and Deutsche Mark. I know everything you know. As I should, as your attorney.

— And what if the firm should desire at some point to terminate your employment?

— Whatever I know, wherever I go, I am bound by the attorney-client privilege. I am very much like... I would say I am exactly like a ship carrying a cargo that will never reach any port. And as long as I am alive, that ship will always be at sea, so to speak.

Clearly, both they and him know that the firm goes bust, and that he no longer wishes to be their attorney. That is, the copying of the files wasn't needed for the purpose of him continuing to represent them.

Mitch didn't intend to turn the files evidencing all the criminal activity to the FBI either. Instead, he turned evidence of mail fraud only which was sufficient to jail all the partners at the firm. He asked the Moroltos for their permission to do that.

So, the purpose of the copies somehow appears to be "collateral" for his personal safety.

I'm not sure I understand how exactly that collateral worked.

Did he essentially imply that if they kill him, someone on his behalf will turn the files to the FBI? So, they better let him go safe?

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It's a lot of "reading between the lines", if you will. Mitch is implying in the first answer that he now has a complete understanding of how the mobsters work. He knows everything they have their hands on. This makes it clear that there is nothing they can hide from him, but also that he is just doing everything he should, "as their attorney". In this manner, it's not so much of an overt threat.

In his second answer, he's essentially saying that they have nothing to fear from him. He's bound by the attorney/client privilege, so he can't say anything that would harm them. But if anything should happen to him, whomever he may have given backup copies to is not bound by that same ethical responsibility, so it's best to not harm him and keep him on their side. This is a chess move on Mitch's part, but a pretty safe one because he knows it makes sense to the mobsters. And, of course, it benefits Mitch as he won't have to live in fear.

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