I will sometimes get clients who are leaving, or have left, their current attorney due to a problem with the attorney/client relationship. Sometimes they will meet with me before they have formally ended their relationship with their other attorney, and they have questions about how to do that. This post is to guide you through how to change attorneys or simply terminate working with your attorney on an issue.
1. Talk to your attorney about the issues. If you’re having difficulty getting phone calls returned from your attorney or are starting to have other problems with the representation, talk to your attorney about it first. You can either write them a letter with your issues or schedule a meeting or a telephone call with them to go over the problems that you’re having. If you’re still having issues after you talk to them about it, it may be time to find a new attorney.
2. Review the agreement that you signed with your attorney in the beginning of the representation. Depending on the type of work they’re doing for you, you may be entitled to a refund of fees that you have paid towards a retainer. You may owe them money for work that they have done up to this point that you haven’t paid them for yet. In certain circumstances, such as a contingency fee agreement where there will be a settlement coming after an accident, you may owe them money at the termination of your legal case even if they are still not representing you.
3. Always send the request to terminate the relationship in writing. You do not need to go into great detail but you should let them know clearly that you would like to terminate the relationship and that you would like a copy of your file and any original documents they may be holding for you. .
4. Get the file back from your former attorney. There may be a delay in this if your attorney has filed an appearance in court for something such as a divorce or a probate matter as they will need to get the court’s permission before they can relieved as your attorney. In general, if you have requested in writing that they terminate the relationship, there should not be an undue delay in the judge granting the request.
5. If you are terminating the relationship but still wish to pursue your legal issue, be honest with your next attorney about what didn’t work. Attorneys are often very hesitant to work with a client who is on their second or third attorney. If it was a difference in communication, that the former attorney’s workload was too high for them to give you the attention that they needed or if you simply had a difference in strategy with your attorney, talk to your new attorney about that.
Clients will sometimes appoint their attorney as their executor, agent under a power of attorney as their health care proxy. If you are ending your relationship with your attorney, be sure to have these documents redone to appointment new agents, and let your former attorney know that you have drafted new documents naming other people.