08 Jun Can My Personal Injury Lawyer Quit? What You Should Know
If you are in the middle of a legal case, could your personal injury lawyer quit? Can they just up and leave? Can they leave, legally? What does it mean when a lawyer withdraws from a case? What do I do if that happens? If you are in this situation, or if you are curious about this scenario, it can seem like a scary situation. This is everything you need to know!
Can My Personal Injury Lawyer Quit?
In short, yes, your personal injury lawyer can quit, but they can’t just up and leave you. When you begin working with a lawyer, you usually sign a retainer or an agreement. This signifies the beginning of a business relationship that technically lasts to the end of your case. A lawyer has a legal obligation to represent you to the best of their ability.
Typically, it is easier for the client to leave the contract than the lawyer if there is any type of dissatisfaction. However, in some instances, a lawyer can withdraw from a case. There must be specific requirements met for that to be the case, though. There are two reasons an attorney can withdraw. The first is a mandatory withdrawal. The second is voluntary.
If you are in the middle of your case, you have the right to fire your attorney. An attorney can withdraw in the middle of a case, but this is usually classified as “mandatory” or “voluntary.” The process for both looks differently. Keep in mind that in both scenarios, the lawyer generally needs to ask or obtain the court’s permission before ending their representation for you in a civil lawsuit.
If the circumstances require that the attorney withdraws from representing their client, it is considered a mandatory withdrawal. Here are the reasons a lawyer would be required to withdraw:
- The lawyer is not competent to represent the client.
- The lawyer becomes a crucial witness to the case.
- The attorney discovers that their services are being used by their client to advance criminal activity.
- The client is insisting on the pursuit of a frivolous position in the case.
- There is a conflict of interest. This includes breaking professional conduct rules.
- The client terminates the services with their lawyer.
When the circumstances allow, but do not require, the lawyer to cease representation, the withdrawal is voluntary. Here are the reasons an attorney would voluntarily withdraw their services:
- The client is not paying for the lawyer’s services in violation of their fee agreement.
- The client is not following the advice of the attorney.
- The client is involved in fraudulent conduct.
- There are issues with the client-lawyer relationship that hinders the attorney from adequately representing the client.
The Process of Withdrawal
To withdraw from representing their client, an attorney must seek permission from the court before they can end their representation. When a lawyer wants to withdraw from a case, whether mandatory or voluntary, they must seek consent first. Most judges and courts will sign their permission.
However, there are two reasons why a court would not sign off on a lawyer withdrawing from a case. First, if the facts leading to the request to withdraw are in dispute, the court wouldn’t sign off. Secondly, if the withdrawal would prejudice the client’s ability to prosecute their case.
If either of these things happens, the court may hold an evidentiary hearing on the disputed facts, before a decision is made about the attorney leaving. In an evidentiary hearing, the factual issues will be reviewed. Having a sensible amount of time to find new representation is also important for the client.
What Happens After Their Request to Withdrawal is Permitted?
Once a lawyer has permission to leave, they must return all of the client’s property they may have in their possession. This includes client funds and anything from the retainer that has not been used. The attorney must also cooperate with the client’s new legal representation and give them the client’s file.
The lawyer is obligated to maintain the confidentiality of anything related to the attorney-client relationship. The attorney can not be a witness for the client’s opposition regarding anything that falls under attorney-client privilege. This arises from the rules of professional responsibility to govern the duties of attorneys to current and former clients. Violating these rules can result in disciplinary action for the lawyer.
In the case of a divorce, a judge may not let the lawyer quit due to the short window of time for a new lawyer to prepare. If a judge does sign off on your attorney leaving and the trial is coming up, they may postpone the trial date, so your new representation has enough preparation time.
Finding a New Lawyer
The court or judges can not force you to stay in your contractual relationship against your will. If a client no longer believes that their attorney is providing effective representation, they are free to discharge the layer and find a replacement. If any fees are owed, the lawyer will be entitled to a lien on any proceeds the client ultimately receives in the case.
One exception to this rule may apply when the client’s desire to change lawyers is raised on the day before or during the trial. Unless the client has a replacement at the ready who is prepared to immediately step in to continue the case, the judge may deny the requested change of lawyers. This would be due to the inconvenience and prejudice this may cause for the opposing party and the court.
Is it Smart to Find a New Lawyer?
Just because you are free to find a new lawyer in the middle of your case, does not mean it is necessarily a wise thing to do. You must consider certain factors when making this change. You should consider whether a new lawyer will require a retainer and how much it will cost. How much time and effort will it take for the new lawyer to speed up the case? Also, consider whether the existing lawyer-client relationship can be repaired to allow continued representation.
Typically, a new lawyer will ask for a substantial retainer. This adds to the client’s overall legal fees, so a value determination should be part of the decision-making process. The new attorney will also spend a significant amount of time learning relevant facts and law applicable to the case. This adds another layer of cost. Since replacing your lawyer mid-case can take time and money, it may not always be the best decision.
How to Fire Your Attorney
If you experience momentary frustration with your lawyer, or if your business relationship with your attorney has deteriorated, you may be considering finding new representation. Sometimes the relationship does not work out. You should always give careful thought when considering finding a new attorney. Consider:
- Am I upset with my lawyer because of something he or she has done or is it a perpetual issue that will exist with another attorney?
- Will changing attorneys be detrimental to my case or legal issue?
- Have I already changed attorneys?
There may be other reasons that you want to hire a different attorney. These reasons include:
- Your attorney is unprofessional.
- The attorney does not communicate with you.
- The attorney does not understand your case or situation.
- You disagree with how the case should be handled.
- Your attorney does not show dedication toward your case or compassion toward you as a client.
When reflecting on any of these issues, talk with your present lawyer about the problem. Lawyers make a living on their legal fees and are usually motivated to do a good job of making their clients happy. Explaining why you are dissatisfied has the potential to change the dynamic in your relationship.
If you’ve decided to change your attorney, review the written agreement or contract you have with the lawyer. It may address the steps to take to terminate your contractual relationship. A new lawyer you hire may also want to see the contractual agreement you had with the previous attorney.
You should meet with other attorneys to explain the situation to minimize the delay in switching. This way, you can find good legal representation before terminating your current lawyer. Ask if your new lawyer will take responsibility for retrieving your files or if you need to handle it. Confirm that your new attorney will notify the court as to your change in representation.
When you are ready to terminate your business relationship with your previous lawyer, send a certified or registered letter to end the relationship. Include that the lawyer is to cease working on any pending matters. You don’t have to include details about why you are firing the lawyer. Make sure to request all of your files unless the new attorney is handling that. Be sure to set up a deadline for handing over the files and how you want to receive them. Also, ensure that you talk about financial changes.
Having your lawyer quit or requesting new representation can be stressful or scary, but knowing what can and can’t be done can help ease the situation.