Sometimes an attorney-client relationship starts to come apart. There are various reasons: you believe you have been overcharged, a disagreement about legal actions taken (or not taken), or a breakdown in communication with each other. Once you lose trust and confidence in an attorney, you must consider firing him or her and retaining new counsel. How do you know when you should fire an attorney? Will you lose any progress you have made in your case? Will you have to pay another retainer? Here is my advice for making a decision.
Get a Second Opinion
If you question whether your lawyer is giving you the best advice for your situation and circumstances, see another attorney for a second opinion. You may get a fresh perspective on your case and how your lawyer is handling it. Bear in mind that changing lawyers can bring some mixed consequences. The new attorney will need time to become fully informed about your case. And final resolution may take longer, since your new lawyer may need to ask that a court date be postponed if one is coming up. But if you believe continuing with your first attorney will negatively affect your case, the benefits may outweigh the disadvantages.
Schedule a Meeting With Your Attorney
Unless the situation is obvious and you feel you must discharge your lawyer, have a meeting with him or her for a frank discussion about your disagreement or unhappiness. You have invested time and money in your current lawyer, but if such a meeting does not result in restored trust between you, then it is time to consider retaining new counsel.
Trust Your Instincts
This is true when you hire an attorney and when you fire an attorney. If your instinct tells you a lawyer is not for you, follow your instinct. Even if it contradicts the advice of your friends or family, and even if the lawyer has fabulous credentials or market presence. An attorney-client relationship must be built upon respect, trust, reliance, and confidence. Trust your instincts if any of those elements are missing.
Disengaging From Your Lawyer
If you signed a retainer agreement, you owe your attorney for services performed. You may negotiate a lower fee to pay upon discharge, but if the lawyer is unwilling to negotiate, then you are still obligated to pay any outstanding balance due. Firing your attorney doesn’t mean you are absolved of fees already incurred. Some attorneys will accept a lesser fee if you pay in a lump sum. In other cases, your lawyer may put a charging or retaining lien on your file, which means your next lawyer will know that first one has to be paid out of any proceeds won in the case.
Paying the Balance Due
If you and your attorney do not agree on the balance you owe, what recourse do you have? Court rules require your lawyer to give you the option of arbitration. Even if he or she does not, say that you want to engage in arbitration to determine the fair amount you owe. The arbitration is free, and the arbitrator will be an attorney who is experienced in the same field of law but is not involved in your case.
It may be easier to try to negotiate a lower balance directly with your attorney. Or you could make an agreement that you will pay a certain amount monthly until the bill is paid.
Your Rights When You Move On
It is against the law for your attorney to withhold your file from you after you fire him or her, though some may try to refuse to turn your papers over to you because you have a bill outstanding. To guarantee payment, your lawyer may maintain a charging lien, as described above. If you think your attorney is not helping your case, firing your attorney is worth it to find one who will better represent you.
© 2014 Mary F. Kelly