Can I Fire My Injury Lawyer?
Yes, you can but that doesn't mean you should. The purpose of this blog is to answer many of the questions people have when they become dissatisfied with their injury lawyer and want to fire the lawyer and find a new one. I will discuss the most common reasons I have heard why clients want to fire their lawyer, the process clients must follow to end their relationship with their lawyer, and issues that they should be aware of before they take the step of saying “you're fired" to their prior counsel.
The Most Common Reasons Why Clients Fire Their Lawyers
1) Lack of Communication
I can tell you without a doubt, the most common reason people have given me for why they chose to fire their prior lawyer is that their lawyer doesn’t return phone calls or emails. Lack of communication is hands down the number one reason and is often fatal to a good attorney-client relationship. It is our practice when someone comes to us wishing to fire their current lawyer to see if we can help save the relationship. We realize that sometimes a simple misunderstanding may be all that stands in the way of an otherwise productive relationship. With the client's permission, I will reach out and call the other attorney to explain the situation to see if there is a way to solve the problem. We have no desire to take cases from lawyers who are doing good work and treating their clients fairly if a simple misunderstanding is the only problem. But sometimes the lawyer has simply been neglecting the client for too long to salvage the relationship. For example, I once had a client come to me and tell me she had documented 10 unreturned calls to her lawyer over the course of a month. Ten!!! In cases like this, if the case has merit we will represent the client because nobody deserves to be treated like that.
2) Personality Conflicts
Another common reason my clients have fired their prior lawyers is because of personality conflicts. For whatever reason, a client just doesn't like their attorney, believes they made a mistake in selecting the attorney, and wants out. There isn’t much you can do to salvage such a relationship, but it sheds light on the importance of meeting with THE lawyer (as opposed to just their staff) who will be handling your case prior to hiring them. Our gut impressions about whether or not we will be able to work with someone is often good guidance.
3) Unrealistic Expectations by the Client as to The Value of Their Case
I learned this lesson the hard way when I first started my firm back in 1998. It is extremely important to manage a new client's expectations early in the process so that future interactions are reasonable and expected by the client. For example, if a client comes to us with injuries from a car accident where the property damage was only $200, has a minor back strain requiring three weeks of physical therapy, and missed no time from work but has an unspoken expectation of settling his case for $50,000, the relationship is headed for disaster when the insurance company makes a settlement offer of $5000. It is up to a lawyer to educate a potential client very early on in the relationship as to the reasonable settlement value of the client’s case. The lawyer should explain what factors go into valuing a personal injury case. It is also a valuable discussion for the lawyer to have because if we know a new client’s expectations can never be met we can (and should) decline to represent them. Open and honest discussions early on often makes the entire process easier for all involved.
4) The Lawyer is Not Qualified to Handle the Case Now That it Is “Complicated”
You hire a lawyer referred to you by a friend. The case turns out to be more complex than originally thought and now your lawyer comes clean with you that he really doesn’t handle “cases that go to trial”. We have seen this happen many times. Again, it is incumbent upon the client to do their homework prior to hiring a lawyer so that they are comfortable that should their case be a part of the small percentage of cases that have to go to court, their lawyer is ready, willing, and able to handle the matter.
How Do I Fire My Lawyer?
My first recommendation prior to firing your current lawyer is to make sure you have secured the services of another lawyer to take their place. Firing your lawyer only to find out that no other lawyer wants your case will leave you representing yourself.
I suggest that you research the new lawyer you have in mind, set up a meeting and explain your situation. Everything you discuss with the lawyer is confidential, so you should speak freely and fully about your case and your reasons for wanting to fire your lawyer.
Once you have another lawyer ready willing and able to take on your case the process for firing your current lawyer is simple; either you or more likely your new lawyer, will send a letter to your prior lawyer indicating that they are to cease work on your file and to forward all documents relating to your case to their office. That's it, that's all you need to do.
If you find yourself in the unfortunate situation where your case has already been filed in court by your prior lawyer things become more difficult. You will again have to find a successor counsel willing to file an appearance on your behalf as substitute counsel. To be honest, finding new counsel after your case has been filed in court is much harder to do. In my 29 years of practice, I have only agreed to do so on 3 occasions. The reason why it is more difficult is that the new attorney has limited ability to handle the case in a manner they see appropriate. They are often hamstrung by the strategy, tactics (and often mistakes) of the previous attorney and there aren’t many lawyers willing to get involved that late in the process.
A bit of caution is in order for those who wish to fire their lawyer and hire a new one. Many lawyers are very cautious about taking on new clients who had a prior lawyer. They want to make sure that the reason the client wants to switch lawyers makes sense. Lawyers don’t want to take on a client if they believe the client will be unreasonably difficult or is not willing to listen to and take good legal advice. It’s human nature to wonder “was it the lawyer or the client” who was the problem. I mention this caution so that you can be prepared when meeting with a new lawyer to explain your reasons and to articulate exactly why it is that you are dissatisfied with your prior lawyer.
Will I Have to Pay the Lawyer I Fired?
No, you won’t. In personal injury cases it is standard for the lawyer to work on a contingent fee basis. For example, most lawyers will charge a fee of 33% (although this can vary), contingent upon obtaining a settlement or verdict in your favor. As an example, if your case settles or you obtain a verdict for $100,000 you would get $66,666 (less expenses) and your lawyer would get $33,333 for her fee. When a client fires Lawyer #1 and moves on to a Lawyer #2, it is typical for the two lawyers to sort out amongst themselves how they will split that $33,000 fee. You as the client will likely receive the same amount as you would if you had stayed with Lawyer #1. For the purposes of this blog, this example is an oversimplification and meant for illustration only, so I strongly suggest that you discuss this fee-splitting issue with your new lawyer prior to signing any agreement.
Knowledge is Power After an Accident.
If you are looking for a 2nd opinion on your case or if you want to know what we think your case may be worth, call us or text us at 617-889-5000. It cost you nothing to discuss your situation with us. We believe the best thing you can do if you suffered an injury in an accident and want to be fairly compensated is to understand your legal rights before you make any decisions. Before you speak to an insurance company adjuster, sign or submit any paperwork or hire a lawyer, you owe it to yourself to get as much information as you can, so you can make a smart decision on what you need to do next. At Spada Law Group, we offer free consumer guides and videos that answer many of the questions accident victims have. Take a look, download our free information or contact us for a free consultation. Learn what Spada Law Group is all about and how we might be the right accident lawyers for you.