Choosing a lawyer can be a very complex decision. You want to be sure that they'll always have your best interests in mind, that they have adequate experience, and that you feel comfortable communicating with them. There are quite a few important questions you should ask when choosing a lawyer and just because they performed well during your initial consultation doesn't mean that you're necessarily thrilled with your lawyer's performance down the line.
Whether it's been a week, a month, or even if it's the day before your trial, you are free to fire your personal injury lawyer at any time and for any reason. However, there are several things to consider before firing your attorney to ensure that your case has the best chance possible of succeeding.
Why Would I Fire My PIP Attorney?
The time following a personal injury can be very overwhelming. Between recovering from injuries and adjusting to life after an accident, not every client is thinking clearly when they choose their personal injury attorney. There are many reasons as to why a client may want to sever ties with their PIP attorney, including:
- The client and lawyer have a poor relationship.
- The lawyer does not communicate with the client or does not return phone calls or emails.
- The lawyer is not paying adequate attention to the case.
- The client no longer trusts the lawyer.
- The client questions the lawyer's competence.
- The client disagrees with the lawyer about important case issues.
- The client is uncomfortable with attorney fees and the cost of the suit.
- Unfavorable decision by the court.
Prior to firing your attorney, you should always first attempt to speak to them about your concerns. Ask to meet face to face; a good attorney will always make time to meet his or her clients and answer any questions they might have. Issues like a lack of communication or feeling like your case isn't receiving adequate attention can be resolved with proper understanding.
Note that while unfavorable decisions by the court can be discouraging, simply because you did not achieve the outcome you desired is not a fair reason for firing your lawyer. If your attorney followed proper protocol and competently argued your case in court, it would not help to fire your attorney. On the other hand, if your attorney was unprepared for trial or did not convey accurate information regarding the case, that would constitute a sensible reason for firing your lawyer.
Steps to Firing a Personal Injury Lawyer
If you're planning on firing your personal injury lawyer, there are steps you should take to mitigate any potential conflicts.
- Step One: Review the contract. Check your contract for a provision that discusses the procedure for terminating the attorney-client relationship. If there is a reasonable process in place, attempt to follow it.
- Step Two: Hire a New Personal Injury Attorney. Finding yourself a new attorney prior to firing the old attorney ensures that there will not be a gap in time when you would left unrepresented.
- Step Three: Write a Formal Letter. Write a letter to your attorney specifically stating that you are terminating the client-attorney relationship. Keep it concise. Request that your old attorney provide all of your case files to either yourself or your new attorney, and include the contact information for your new attorney, including address, fax number, and email address. If you made any payment advances to the attorney, also include a request of a refund of any remaining balance.
- Step Four: Notify the Court. If your case is pending before a court, you must notify the court of the substitution or withdrawal of your counsel. In most cases, your old attorney will file a "motion to withdraw" as your legal counsel, or your new attorney will file a "motion for substitution of counsel."
Will It Cost Me More Money to Fire an Attorney?
When you sever ties with your old personal injury attorney, you must pay any attorney's fees and other costs that you owe. Depending on your attorney-client contract, your attorney may have the right to hold your case files until you pay any fees and costs still owed. Likewise, a personal injury attorney may file an attorney's lien in court, which allows him or her to recover their unpaid fees and costs out of the final judgment in your case.
However, it is important to note that it will not cost more money to fire an attorney and hire another. At the end of the day, you will only be paying one attorney fee. This is the contingency fee that you agree to in a client-attorney contract which states which percentage of your settlement your attorney will receive as payment for representing your case. In the case that you fire an attorney and hire another, your one attorney fee will be divided between both the law firms that represented you.
Will I Have Trouble Finding a Second Lawyer?
Many fear that since their new attorney must split their attorney fee with the old lawyer, they will have a hard time finding a new attorney to take on their case. This is typically not true. An attorney fee is divided between the law firms that represented you based on “quantum meruit," which means the reasonable value of their services.
In other words, how much work each firm did will decide what percentage of the fee they will be granted. If the two firms did approximately the same amount of work, they will divide the fee equally. If your second personal injury lawyer did most of the work, they will be granted the larger chunk of the fee. However, if the first lawyer handled your case for quite some time and completed a substantial amount of work, a second lawyer may be tentative about taking on the case.
But, it is important to note that if the case has significant value, even if the initial lawyer did a lot of work on the file, the second attorney will likely not be deterred from taking the case. Ultimately how the attorney fee is divided is worked out after the case is resolved by the two law firms, and is of little concern to the client.
Is a New Personal Injury Lawyer Right for Me?
In a personal injury case, it is crucial that a client feels comfortable with their attorney. Confidence in a lawyer's strategy is paramount, and trust in the lawyer's abilities makes for a positive, collaborative relationship. If at any point you begin to lose faith in your personal injury attorney, make it a point to voice your concerns.
If you're feeling neglected, lack confidence in your case, or your lawyer continues to inadequately communicate with you, take this as a red flag to find a new attorney. Switching attorneys throughout a case will hold no negative connotations toward your case, nor should it extend your case any longer than need be.