A client generally has a right to fire his or her lawyer for any reason, or for no reason. However, if a lawsuit has already been filed, the client will usually have to obtain the court’s permission to fire his or her lawyer.
The Attorney-Client Relationship
While the attorney-client relationship is a kind of contractual agreement, clients are generally under no obligation to keep working with an attorney if they are dissatisfied. The attorney-client relationship is known as a fiduciary relationship. This means that the lawyer owes a heightened duty to the client, beyond that of an ordinary employee-employer relationship.
Entitlement to Fees for Services Rendered
If you decide to fire your attorney, he or she is still entitled to reasonable fees for services already rendered. If the client agreed to an hourly fee agreement, calculating the amount due will be easy. The attorney will simply be paid the hourly rate for the services already performed.
Contingency Fee Agreements
The other common fee agreement is slightly more complicated: in a contingency agreement, the client does not have to pay the lawyer unless there is a settlement or judgment in the client’s favor. In that case, the lawyer takes a percentage of the settlement.
If a client has a contingency agreement with the lawyer, and fires the lawyer right before trial, the lawyer may be able to get a percentage of the recovery if the client and his or her new lawyer go on to win the case. This will be determined by the amount of work the previous lawyer did. If the new lawyer loses the case, the previous lawyer is entitled to nothing, since he or she would not have been entitled to any payment even if he or she had been retained.