Firing a Lawyer

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 Can I Fire My Lawyer?

A client generally has a right to fire their lawyer for any reason whatsoever, even on a whim, although that is not a good idea. However, if the lawyer has filed a civil lawsuit on behalf of the person or has made a court appearance as the person’s attorney of record, e.g. as the person’s defense attorney in a criminal case, the person usually must notify the court and obtain the court’s permission to fire their lawyer.

The person would also need to inform the court of their plan for representation going forward, i.e. whether another lawyer is going to represent them and make an appearance in court or whether the person plans to act on their own behalf.

An attorney whose client wishes to terminate their representation would have to file a Motion to Withdraw with the court in which the client’s case is pending, and ask the court to set a date for a hearing on the motion. If this happens, a person should be prepared to explain to the judge the reason for their decision to fire their attorney. They should be prepared to communicate a substantive reason and not a frivolous one. A judge can deny the motion, so a person wants to be ready to offer a reason that a judge is likely to respect.

There are cases in which a person may not be able to fire one lawyer and hire a new one. This situation would arise when a case is pending in court and the judge requires a party to maintain their relationship with their lawyer, because the case has progressed too far. The court may feel that hiring a new lawyer would delay a court proceeding, e.g. a trial, and the court does not accept the proposal. Changing attorneys would require the court to stop a trial, for example, because a new lawyer would need time to prepare to effectively represent their client.

Judges can determine when it is not suitable for a new lawyer to take over. So while a person does have the right to hire new counsel if they want to, in some cases, it is really not advisable or a court would not allow it. If a person’s case or legal matter has progressed almost to a conclusion, a person should probably only fire their lawyer as a last resort.

What Is an Attorney-Client Relationship?

Hopefully a person who fires their attorney has a written contract with them that specifies how the lawyer is to be paid, whether on a flat fee, hourly fee or contingency fee basis. Again, while the attorney-client relationship is a contractual relationship, clients are generally under no obligation to keep working with an attorney if they are dissatisfied. They may terminate the attorney-client relationship.

The attorney-client relationship is a fiduciary relationship. This means that the lawyer owes a heightened duty of care to their client, beyond that of the ordinary employee-employer relationship. A lawyer owes their client a fiduciary duty. So, if the attorney-client relationship is ended, the lawyer must still act in the best interests of their client and cannot do anything to harm their client’s interests.

If a person decides to fire their attorney , they should do so in a written letter. The letter should state the reasons for which the person has decided to terminate the attorney-client relationship. and give the attorney instructions regarding where they should send the contents of the file in the matter. A person should understand that some states do not require the attorney to turn over their “work product” or mental impressions or theories of the case.

Do I Have to Pay My Lawyer If I Fire Them?

If a person decides to fire their attorney, the attorney is still entitled to the fees for the services they have already rendered. If the client agreed to an hourly fee arrangement, calculating the amount due should be straightforward. The attorney would simply be paid the hourly rate agreed upon by the attorney and the client for the number of hours they have already worked.

Before firing their attorney, a person would want to consider whether this might have a negative effect on the finances connected with their case. The “new” attorney may not be willing to expend the time and money necessary to properly handle a person’s case if they are going to have to split a contingency fee to a previous attorney.

Or, a person’s “new” lawyer may attempt to charge them a higher fee to account for the fee they must give to the prior lawyer. Some attorney-client contracts make the client responsible for the costs involved in the case. A person should be prepared in those instances to reimburse the attorney’s costs when their representation is terminated.

A person would want to make sure that they have a new lawyer lined up to take on their case or legal matter before they fire the one they have. And they would want to be sure they have a satisfactory fee agreement with the new lawyer. They should consider the fact that any new attorney would have to get up to speed on the case and review all the work done by the previous attorney. The client may have to pay for this.

What If I Had a Contingency Fee Agreement?

The other common fee agreement is slightly more complicated and that is the contingency fee agreement. In a contingency agreement, the client does not have to pay the lawyer unless there is payment of a settlement amount or an award of damages in the client’s favor. In that case, the lawyer takes a percentage of the amount they recover for the client.

If a person’s lawyer was working on a contingency fee basis, the client might be required to pay an hourly rate for the time the lawyer put in on the case before being fired, plus any expenses or costs they incurred up until the final date that they worked on the case.

Or, If a client has a contingency agreement with the lawyer, and fires the lawyer before their case is settled or goes to trial, the fired lawyer may be able to get a percentage of the recovery if the client and their new lawyer go on to success with the case. The amount would be determined by any contract between the fired lawyer and the contract and by the amount of work the previous lawyer did. If the new lawyer loses the case, the previous lawyer is entitled to nothing, since they would not have been entitled to any payment even if they had been kept on.

Hopefully, a person who wants to fire a lawyer with whom they have a contingency fee agreement would have a contract that would specify how the lawyer is to be paid in the event the relationship is terminated before the matter on which the lawyer is working has come to a conclusion. If not, there could be a fee dispute between them.

What If I Have a Flat Fee Arrangement with My Attorney?

A more difficult situation is one in which the client has agreed to pay their attorney a flat fee for handling a matter through to its conclusion. If the client has already paid the full fee or a part of it, it may be a problem to come to an agreement regarding how much of the fee the attorney has earned and what proportion, if any, should be returned. Again, hopefully there is a contract that tells the parties how to proceed in this situation.

Do I Need a Lawyer to Help Me with Firing My Current Lawyer?

If you would like to fire your attorney and hire a new one, your new attorney may be able to advise you on how best to handle terminating the relationship with your previous attorney. If a serious dispute over attorney’s fees develops, you may need a liability lawyer to help you resolve the problem.

If you feel that your attorney’s handling of your case was so sub-par as to possibly constitute attorney malpractice, you should consult a personal injury lawyer. Your attorney will analyze the facts of your case and can tell you if you have been the victim of malpractice and if so, what you can do about it.


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