If you’ve been hurt in an accident, hiring a personal injury lawyer can be a great step towards securing compensation for the losses you’ve suffered. However, hiring a lawyer also involves creating a working relationship with them as your case progresses.
If that relationship is not working, you may be wondering if you should fire your lawyer and move on to another one. Generally, clients have the right to fire their personal injury lawyer at any time, but making such an important decision often involves important considerations, such as how the lawyer-client relationship can be ended, if it can affect a client financially, and whether the firing can be avoided.
Knowing factors that are commonly involved in firing a personal injury lawyer could give you the confidence to make this decision if it is what’s best for you and your case.
Reasons A Client May Fire A Personal Injury Lawyer
Depending on the circumstances of your case, there are several causes for a lawyer-client relationship to end.
Some of the common reasons a client may be unhappy with their personal injury lawyer include:
- a lack of confidence in the attorney’s competence, or their ability to handle your case
- the attorney fees and costs being too high
- disagreement about important case issues or strategies (for example, if you insist on settling your case but the lawyer wants to go to trial)
- the attorney showing a lack of interest (for example, if there’s a pattern of your attorney being unfamiliar with your case)
- lack of communication from the lawyer (the attorney is not returning your phone calls, letters, or emails)
- poor relationship with a lawyer (you and the lawyer do not get along)
- no progress, or a lack of progress in your case
- not receiving help from the lawyer when you ask questions or need guidance
- feeling unsure about the attorney’s ethics or judgment
- the lawyer has missed a deadline or deadlines
- an unfavorable decision by the court
According to the American Bar Association, a competent lawyer should have a reasonable amount of “legal knowledge, skill, thoroughness, and preparation” to represent a client. It makes sense for a client to struggle with the idea of questioning their attorney’s competence, since clients are often unfamiliar with the ins and outs of legal practice.
However, if you are questioning whether your lawyer is capable of representing you and achieving a satisfactory case result, you may need to make a judgment call based on your observations and common sense. For instance, think about whether your lawyer has reasonable answers to your questions, or if they struggle to understand what issues are important.
If your lawyer doesn’t seem to have what it takes to represent you in an effective way (even after you’ve discussed it with them) then it may be time to terminate the lawyer-client relationship.
Lack Of Communication
Lawyers failing to return phone calls is one of the leading complaints that clients report to disciplinary organizations. There are several reasons why a lawyer may not return a client’s requests for contact: they could be understaffed, have badly trained support staff, or they may simply lack the preparation and skill to respond.
Whatever the reason, if you see a pattern where your lawyer is not responding to your calls, emails, or letters, it could be a sign of a deeper problem.
A common issue that can arise after you’ve hired your lawyer is that the two of you just don’t get along. Although it’s not ideal to dislike your lawyer, it also may not be a strong enough reason to fire them.
A lawyer’s friendliness may be important to you as a client, but keep in mind that competence is key. For instance, if you don’t like your lawyer as a person, but they are doing great work as your counsel, then their personality may not be enough to get in the way of them successfully representing you.
On the other hand, if you are disagreeing on key decisions in your case (such as whether to go to trial) or if having a “warm and friendly” lawyer is important to you, you may want to find another lawyer.
What To Do If You’re Considering Firing Your Lawyer
Generally, lawsuits can be overwhelming and emotionally difficult for plaintiffs who have been injured. Although you may have the right to fire your personal injury lawyer after an emotionally charged setback in your case, that doesn’t mean it is always a good idea.
The decision to fire your attorney usually involves hiring a new one to replace them, so it’s usually best to take the time to consider your reasons for doing so before you act.
For example, say you were injured in a car accident and wanted to enter a motion before your trial. The judge denies the motion, even though your lawyer had strong arguments in the filed motion and presented them well in court. In this case, the denial of the motion was unfavorable to your case, but it may not be helpful to fire the lawyer in response.
If you are finding reasons to fire your personal injury lawyer, you may be able to save yourself some time and frustration if you first set up a meeting with them to discuss the issues that are bothering you. If the lawyer is able to correct these problems without you having to fire them, you could benefit by avoiding the hassle of hiring a new attorney. If, however, the issues do not get fixed, then you may want to consider firing them.
Steps To Take When Firing A Personal Injury Lawyer
If you are ready to act on the decision to fire your personal injury lawyer, there are some steps you can take to limit conflicts that could come up afterward.
1. Review Your Contract
Read over the contract you signed for legal services to see if there is a section that requires a certain procedure for terminating the attorney-client relationship. If there is, you may be wise to follow it so that the relationship is terminated in an effective way.
2. Hire A New Personal Injury Lawyer
To prevent any complications down the road, it’s important to remember that you should only hire a new personal injury attorney when you are certain that you will be firing your current one.
Selecting and hiring a new attorney before firing your current one may seem odd, but it can protect you from the possibility of having to face legal issues on your own while searching for a new lawyer to represent you.
3. Terminate The Lawyer-Client Relationship In Writing
Many clients may not know that they can terminate their attorney-client relationship in an official letter. This letter gives the lawyer notice that the working relationship has ended, and they have been fired. To be sure it is received, you may want to send it by certified mail.
This type of letter often includes certain elements to make the termination effective. For instance, it should state that “the letter constitutes the termination of the attorney-client relationship.”
If you have made any payment advances for attorney fees, you may want to ask to be refunded for those. Keep in mind, however, that if you paid a “nonrefundable retainer” to your lawyer, you may not be refunded any of that amount.
Lawyer-client relationship termination letters also often include a statement to request that the lawyer provide all case files to the client’s new attorney (including the new attorney’s contact information such as their email address, phone and fax numbers, and mailing address.
4. Notify The Court
If your case is pending before a court, you will likely have to notify the court of the withdrawal or substitution of counsel. This allows the court to accommodate the change in who is representing you.
Typically, it’s best if the court is notified as soon as possible after you terminate the attorney-client relationship with your lawyer in writing. Usually, the new lawyer will file a motion for substitution of counsel with the court as your old attorney files a motion to withdraw.
Do I Have To Pay My Lawyer After I Fire Them?
Most personal injury lawyers work for clients on a contingency-fee basis. This means they are paid by taking a percentage of the winnings after a positive outcome—either from a settlement or from damages awarded after a favorable court verdict.
If you decide to replace your personal injury attorney before your case is resolved, the contingency fee percentage that you pay at the close of the case will generally stay the same. This is because the attorney fee that is deducted from a settlement or court award will be divided between the lawyers that represented you.
The way it is shared between the attorneys is often based on the amount of work each lawyer put into your case. In many cases, a lawyer who has been fired will file what is called an attorney’s lien, which secures their right to receive a fee from any settlement or recovery for the value of the work they did on your case before they were fired.
Fortunately, clients typically do not have to pay this fee out of pocket. Instead, the money that is owed to the first attorney for the time they put into your case is paid out of the second attorney’s fee.
How Are Attorney’s Liens Handled?
For example, after being hurt in a slip and fall accident, you sign a contract to hire Lawyer A for a 40 percent contingency fee. Four months later, you fire Lawyer A and hire Lawyer B. Lawyer B settles the case for $10,000 and asks for the same 40 percent contingency fee.
Lawyer A files an attorney’s lien claiming they spent enough time on the case before they were fired to be paid a $2,000 fee. Lawyer B would receive their 40 percent, or $4,000 fee, and from that, they would pay Lawyer A their $2,000 fee.
As the client, you do not have to pay Lawyer A anything out of pocket and still pay the same contingency fee percentage overall.
Generally speaking, it is up to a lawyer to decide if it is in their best interest to take on a case after another attorney has handled it. They will likely weigh the value of your case, as well as how much of the attorney fee they would have to share, based on the amount of time the first lawyer worked on the case.
Finding A Personal Injury Lawyer
The attorney-client relationship is based on trust. When you are hurt, hiring a lawyer can secure your chance to seek full compensation for your injuries. Yet, having a healthy working relationship with your lawyer and finding a competent, knowledgeable lawyer can make a difference in how your case is handled.
Don’t settle for less than the very best in legal representation. Contact our team of experienced lawyers at Florin|Roebig to get help with filing a claim.