You have the right to change legal counsel if you lose faith in your attorney and do not have confidence in the attorney who represents you. However, changing lawyers in the middle of a personal injury case is a complex process. This should not be done without first talking over the circumstances with the attorney and give him or her a chance to fix any problems.
In some cases, you are not allowed to change lawyers. The court has discretion over whether a lawyer can leave a case if the case is too far along for a new lawyer to step in.
Be sure to consider all the ramifications of changing attorneys, which include:
- The lawyer leaving the case is entitled to be paid for the legal work already done.
- If the lawyer is billing for time, the outstanding legal bills need to be paid.
- If the lawyer received a legal retainer (advance deposit for legal services), an accounting must be made for any retainer, with any unused portion refunded.
- If the lawyer is working on a contingency arrangement (percentage fee basis), you may have to pay the attorney’s hourly rate for any time spent on the case plus any expenses.
- You may have to pay extra money to the new lawyer for the work effort needed to get up to speed by studying your case.
Substitution of Attorney vs. Motion to Withdraw
There are two ways an attorney can officially stop representing you in a case, which is a substitution of attorney process or the court accepting a motion to withdraw, submitted by an attorney who wants to be out of the case.
Substitution of Attorney
You have to sign a substitution of attorney form before an attorney can “sub-out.” If an attorney asks you to sign the form, it is up to you to decide if you want to sign it. If you fire your attorney and want a new one, you fill out this form naming the new attorney who agrees to represent you and submit the form for acceptance by the court.
Motion to Withdraw
If your attorney files a motion to withdraw with the court, it is up to the judge to decide whether to grant the motion or not. The court has the discretion to refuse the motion. The court also has the option to grant the motion and reschedule the trial date to give time to find new legal counsel.
Reasons for switching attorneys include:
Case neglect occurs if an attorney does not properly pursue a case, fails to file motions on time, and misses filing deadlines for responses.
The signs of a bad lawyer are not returning phone calls to clients within a reasonable amount of time, and when a client requests a meeting, the lawyer reschedules it repeatedly at the last moment. Other signs are the lawyer is distracted when meeting with the client, taking phone calls, does not listen to the client, does not give the client time to ask questions, and ignores what the client says.
Legal malpractice takes many forms. It is much more serious than making a legal mistake. For example, an attorney cannot misuse clients’ funds held in the attorney’s trust account. It is also a violation to mix clients’ funds with a lawyer’s personal funds.
Another example of legal malpractice is letting the statute of limitations expire before filing the case. If a lawyer loses a case for failure to show up in court or shows up to court impaired on drugs or alcohol, this is another example of legal malpractice.
Client Does Not Pay the Attorney
Clients who cannot pay or refuse to pay an attorney are good reasons for an attorney to make a motion to withdraw from the case.
Attorney Left the Law Firm Handling Your Case
If an attorney leaves the law firm that has your case, it is common for a substitute attorney from the same firm to take over the case.
Attorney Dies or Becomes Incapacitated
If an attorney dies or becomes legally incapacitated, the court will grant the time needed to find new legal representation and delay the case.
Attorney is Disbarred
If an attorney is disbarred, this means the attorney cannot legally represent you any longer.
It can be extremely costly to have bad legal representation. After considering all the consequences, it may be better to switch attorneys. If you are considering changing lawyers in the middle of your personal injury case, call (281) 475-4535 or contact us for a free consultation.