Occasionally I receive calls from injury victims who are dissatisfied with their lawyer. Sometimes they’ve already decided to change lawyers and sometimes they’re seeking another lawyer’s opinion on whether they should make a change. There are some important considerations to be aware of if you find yourself in this situation. Here are some things to keep in mind:

#1 Talk To Your Lawyer

The first advice I give when someone tells me that they’re thinking about firing their lawyer is to talk to their lawyer. Often, there’s a case of miscommunication or misunderstanding that can easily be resolved by talking it out. Lawyers don’t want to lose good cases or good clients. If they know you’re dissatisfied, they’ll make every effort to rectify the situation. I’ve found that in most cases, doing this will alleviate the concerns.

#2 I Can’t Get In Touch With My Lawyer

The most common reasons that clients become dissatisfied with their lawyers is a difficulty or inability to reach them. If your lawyer ignores your calls, won’t talk to you, or refuses to meet with you, then you have a problem. The failure to communicate with you in a timely and professional manner could be due to many reasons, including an excessive case load, disorganization or incompetence of the lawyer’s staff, or the failure to attach enough importance to the handling of your case. In these situations, you may need to consider making a change.

#3 My Case Is Taking Too Long

One thing that often is not adequately communicated to a client is cases are almost never resolved quickly. Even if an insurance company wants to settle your case, this cannot be done until all of the information, documents, medical records, bills, etc. have been obtained and submitted. If Medicare, Medicaid, or other insurance has paid your bills, then reimbursement issues have to be resolved before the case can be settled. It’s not unusual for these this to take many months.

If you have a personal injury case and are still undergoing medical treatment, then your case cannot be settled until you’ve completed treatment or your doctors have a good assessment on the extent of your injuries, expected permanent impairments, cost of future treatment and so forth. If these aren’t known, then there’s no way to evaluate what your case might be worth in settlement.

If – despite your attorney’s best efforts – the case cannot be settled, then a lawsuit will have to be filed. Once a lawsuit is filed, you can expect a minimum of 1 year and ofttimes 2-3 years to get to trial. For complicated cases, the resolution time will be much longer. Once the case gets into court, it’s less likely that it will get settled until a trial date is set.

In some cases, delays do result from a lawyer not be working your case as he or she should and in those situations, you may be justified in considering a change. In most instances however, a lawyer has very little control over the length of time it takes to resolve the case. Again, you need to give your lawyer an opportunity to explain to you why the case is taking so long before you make a change.

#4 My Lawyer And I Have A Difference Of Opinion

There are times in which you and your lawyer may be in deep conflict as to how your case should be handled. This may involve issues of strategy, settlement amounts, or other matters. If, after making a serious effort to try and work out these issues with your lawyer, you firmly believe that your lawyer is not working in your best interest or that your differences are irreconcilable, then it’s time to consider making a change.

#5 My Attorney Is Dishonest

  If you’ve found that your attorney has been dishonest with you, or even worse, has misapplied money they’ve been entrusted with, then you should immediately terminate the lawyer’s services and perhaps consider filing a complaint with the bar association.

#6 I Can’t Stand My Attorney

At times, clients find themselves in a situation where they just don’t like their lawyer on a personal basis and find it unbearable to continue in a lawyer-client relationship. That’s why whenever possible, a client should talk with the lawyer and try to get a feel for what type of person he or she is before making a decision on hiring. However, even if you find the lawyer to be unpleasant to deal with, you may have to bite your tongue and put up with it if the lawyer has some exceptional qualification or experience in handling your type of case such that anyone else would be a downgrade.

#7 The Risks Of Firing Your Lawyer

Before you make a final decision on firing your lawyer, you need to be aware of the consequences and risks of doing so.

You May Not Find Another Lawyer

One of the biggest risks of firing your lawyer is that you may have a difficult time hiring another one. Many lawyers have a policy to not accept clients represented by other lawyers. This is particularly true if the case is already filed in court and has had a substantial amount of work done. Each lawyer has their own way of handling cases, and a lot of attorneys are reluctant to take over someone else’s case in the middle of litigation. Some lawyers may fear that you are a ”problem client” if you’re changing lawyers and thus decide to steer clear of representing you. If you fire your lawyer and can’t find someone else to take the case, you could be stuck representing yourself, which rarely, rarely, rarely ends well.  This can put you in a “Catch-22” situation because from an ethical standpoint, lawyers are extremely limited in what they can discuss with you while you’re represented by another attorney, so you may have to fire your current lawyer before another lawyer will agree to represent you.

You May End Up Paying Both Lawyers

If you fire a lawyer who has already performed work on your case, you are obligated to pay that lawyer based on the value of the legal work that’s been done. Should you be unable to agree with the lawyer on this value, then the lawyer has the right to file an attorney fee lien against your claim which would give them the right to be paid out of any proceeds you receive from the case. This means that you could end up having to pay fees to your old lawyer AND your new lawyer for the case, which obviously would reduce the amount that you receive.

#8 How Should I Fire My Lawyer

The best way to fire your lawyer is in writing via letter or email. You may or may not wish to include the reasons for the firing (it’s not required), but you should always request a copy of your file to provide to your new lawyer. You should also ask for a written confirmation that the lawyer is no longer representing you. It’s not unusual for a new attorney to contact the prior one to confirm that they’re no longer representing you and to see if there’s any insight they can provide on the case. You don’t want the old lawyer speaking ill of you as a client, so even if you’re angry, you should keep communications professional and courteous.

#9 When Should I Fire My Lawyer (andWhen Should I Not)?

The more work a lawyer has done on your case, the more complicated it becomes for you when you fire him or her and the more difficult it become to find another lawyer to represent you. If you fire your lawyer during trial or shortly before there’s a major deadline in your case (statute of limitations, trial setting, appeal deadline, etc.), you’ll have to find someone able to drop everything and immediately begin working your case. If you fire your lawyer after a settlement offer has been made, that lawyer is going to have a good claim for fees based on the value of the offer – which means that your new lawyer is either going to have to agree to reduced fees or you are going to have to accept that you will be paying for 2 lawyers out of your settlement.

Call the Lattof & Lattof Law Firm

Firing a lawyer is a difficult and stressful decision and you should always make every effort to talk with your lawyer before going down that path. Hopefully this article has provided some insight for making that decision. At Lattof & Lattof, we strive very hard to keep our clients informed and satisfied. We return all client phone calls and communications in a prompt manner and it’s always our pleasure to talk to those we represent. You are always welcome to call us for a free consultation regarding your case. We have been representing injury victims for over 70 years and we work hard to obtain the most compensation and best results possible for our clients. Give us a call today!