When a client loses faith or trust in his attorney the client may consider firing his lawyer. However, before jumping to the immediate conclusion that it is time to end the relationship, you should consider several factors. First, you must carefully examine the reasons you are unhappy with your attorney. Keeping a lawyer with the highest level of competence in the area of practice which involves your case should be your number one priority.
If you get mad at your attorney for failing to return phone calls or failing to keep you properly apprised of the status of your case, you should discuss your feelings with your attorney before summarily dismissing him. Virtually all lawyers work on many cases at one time. Your lawyer might be tied up in a trial, deposition or out of town on another case. If he has not returned your phone calls, there may be a good reason. Leave a message with his secretary or paralegal. Often, the secretary or paralegal can give you an update on the status of your case.
E-mail is a great way of communicating with your attorney. If he cannot immediately return your phone call, most lawyers can quickly send an e-mail to let you know about his situation and when he can more fully respond. Failing to communicate with clients is one of the biggest complaints clients make to lawyers, especially personal injury lawyers. However, if your lawyer is otherwise very competent, it is worth while to discuss your concerns with him and devise solutions for future updates.
Clients discuss their cases with friends, family and other lawyers they may meet during their case. If you get advice from another lawyer or friend advising you to fire your existing attorney and hire a new one, beware! The advice you get from these sources is based upon information you provide to them which may not accurately set forth the particular legal issues and ramifications of the facts involved in your case.
Another fact to keep in mind is that the lawyer you fire will likely have a lien or claim against the case to recover the fair and reasonable value of the time he spent on the case. This lien may take the form of a percentage of the fee or an hourly rate for the documented hours spent on the case. Your “new” lawyer may not be willing to expend the time and money necessary to properly handle your case if he must give up a large fee to your previous lawyer. Or, your “new” lawyer may attempt to charge you a higher fee to account for the fee he must give to the prior lawyer. Some lawyer contracts make the client responsible for the costs involved in the case. Be prepared in those instances to pay your lawyer’s costs when you terminate his representation.
If you do decide to fire your lawyer, you should do so in writing. Your letter should set forth and document any conduct or reasons supporting your decision. It should also give instruction as to where he needs to send your file. Keep in mind that some states do not require the attorney to turn over his “work product” or mental impressions or theories of the case. Do not threaten your lawyer with legal action or a reporting to the bar association. This will only strengthen his resolve to intervene into your case and recover the entirety of his fee. Do not send a carbon copy of your termination letter to the local bar association unless his conduct has been illegal or clearly unethical.
If you treat the unpleasant task of terminating you lawyer’s services professionally, chances are that he will respond in a professional and courteous manner. After all, good lawyers value their reputations very much. Most attorneys respect that legitimate differences of opinion or strategy may mean that the relationship must end. However, the best lawyers want only what is in the client’s best interest. If it becomes apparent that the client is better served by another lawyer, then he should be happy to relinquish the case for the good of the client.