We often receive telephone calls from people who are unhappy with their current lawyer and want us to take over their case. So, can you fire your lawyer and how does it work?
The short answer is, yes, you can fire your lawyer at any time and the lawyer will have a lien on the proceeds of your case.
Before firing your lawyer, you should first clearly state your problem, in writing, to the lawyer. Usually the problem with people who hire big law firms is lack of communication and responsiveness – the feeling that they are just a number and not a person and client. The second most common complaint is the lawyer’s lack of positive action on the case. This should be communicated clearly to the lawyer.
If the lawyer does not react to your complaint, you are entitled to reach out to another law firm for a second opinion. This is stated clearly in the Florida Bar Association Ethics Opinion 02-5. However, before any action is taken by the new lawyer, the prior lawyer must be fired in writing and the new lawyer retained. The prior lawyer is fired with a simple letter stating as much and informing him or her who the new lawyer is. The new lawyer then requests a copy of the client’s file – which the prior lawyer is ethically obligated to provide.
So, what is the “lien” the prior attorney has on your case? Where there is a contingency fee agreement, the prior attorney has a lien on any settlement or verdict in “quantum meruit.” This means he or she will get paid based on the reasonable value of the services provided. Generally, this does not change how much you pay the lawyers at the end of the case. It means that at the end of the case, the new lawyer will have to negotiate with the prior lawyer who gets what of the contingency fee.
When should you not change lawyers? There is never a situation where you absolutely should not change lawyers but you definitely want to think long and hard about it once a lawsuit has been filed in your case. The defense attorney will pick up on the discord, rightfully so, between you and your lawyer. That is not something you want to project when you are in litigation.
Changing lawyers is generally not recommended but sometimes necessary. If the lawyers are professional, it can be a smooth and easy transition.