Can I switch lawyers during my case?

Hiring the right lawyer for your legal representation in a personal injury case can be difficult.  There are many attorneys that will say they want to handle your case at the very beginning when they think a quick settlement is in the works. Many times, when a person is dealing with the pain and financial losses from an accident, they make quick or rash decisions about which attorney they hire. As time progresses, you realize that the promised services are not being fulfilled and you conclude you may have hired the wrong lawyer or law firm. It's important to keep in mind that you are not locked into your initial decision. You have a legal right to fire or change your lawyer if you are unhappy how he or she is handling your case. Ultimately, whether at the beginning of the case or later on, the process of hiring the right lawyer who will stick with you through the entire process is the single most important action you will take at the outset of your personal injury case.

When Is it Appropriate to Find a New Lawyer?

No lawyer can guarantee a specific outcome for your case, nor can an attorney assure you of a specific date your case will resolve. Thus, experiencing difficulties in obtaining a settlement isn't necessarily justification for new legal representation. You should explore with your attorney all that is being done to move your case towards its conclusion. Make sure you give your lawyer the opportunity to help you understand what has been done in handling your claim. On the other hand, the following issues indicate valid reasons for firing your personal injury lawyer:

  • Your lawyer is rude and doesn't answer your questions. Even though you didn't attend law school yourself, don't forget that your lawyer was hired to be your advocate.  The lawyer works for you. You and your concerns should be respected and you should have your questions answered. If your lawyer is rude, condescending, and dismissive, seeking other legal representation is a smart move.
  • Your lawyer doesn't seem interested in resolving your case. Although it's common for lawyers to be working on multiple cases simultaneously, there's an expectation your lawyer will work on your case in a timely fashion. If your lawyer doesn't seem to be making progress on your case and/or your requests for updates are continually ignored, it's time to find new representation.
  • You're questioning your lawyer's competence. Finding other representation should be a priority if you have serious doubts about your lawyer's competence. A recently admitted lawyer, unsupervised by an experienced attorney, often doesn't have the experience necessary to handle a complex personal injury case. Additionally, you may also have a cause for concern if your lawyer doesn't normally handle personal injury cases. A lawyer can be excellent at practicing criminal law, but personal injury law requires different knowledge and skills. Finally, if you are concerned your lawyer may be experiencing substance abuse or financial problems, change lawyers immediately.
  • Your lawyer is engaged in unethical behavior. A lawyer who advocates falsifying evidence or lying about the facts or the extent of injuries can't be trusted. Sexual harassment or other similar misconduct would be another example of grossly inappropriate conduct that justify finding another lawyer.

How Do I Change Lawyers?

If you've decided to change lawyers for your personal injury claim, start first by looking for another attorney with whom you are comfortable and who is willing to have your case transferred to him or her. If you are able to find the right attorney for your case, hire that attorney and he or she will send your current lawyer a written notice of your decision, to stop working on the case and to transfer the files to the new lawyer. If you have not found another attorney to handle your case, you may want to attempt to work with your current lawyer to see if he or she will be willing to refer your case to another attorney due to your unease with the current representation. As a last resort, send a letter to the lawyer clearly and objectively stating the reason or reasons why you feel your lawyer isn't qualified to represent you in your personal injury claim. Within the letter, provide instructions as to where to send your case file. Send the letter via certified mail so you have documentation of its delivery to the lawyer.

If your case is currently pending before a court, additional paperwork is required to be filed with the court notifying the court and opposing counsel of the change of counsel. This form is called a Substitution of Attorney. Your new lawyer will prepare this form, or if you do not have an attorney at the time you terminate, your courts’ website should provide online access to the form.  

Will I Owe Money?

Since personal injury lawyers work on a contingency fee basis, you may find yourself wondering if there is a financial penalty involved in firing your lawyer before the case is completed.

When you switch lawyers in the middle of a case, your initial lawyer will have a lien or claim against the settlement you receive. He or she won't be able to collect the full original percentage, but your former lawyer is still entitled to compensation for the reasonable time and costs spent preparing your case. This expense should not increase your cost for legal fees, but it does impact the amount of money your new attorney may receive for the services to be rendered on your behalf. Depending on the stage of the case, this fee division may make it challenging to get another lawyer to take over your case, because the greater the lien, the lower the compensation is for the new attorney to take over your case.

Some contracts will have language stating that your lawyer is allowed to withhold case files until current charges are paid in full. However, under California law, your attorney cannot withhold your file, regardless of the terms of the legal services contract. The file belongs to you, not the lawyer. Under some limited circumstances, the need to pay your prior attorney may not be required at all. For example, if your lawyer was engaging in unethical conduct, was under suspension or failed to perform the required services, then a court may determine that you were justified in terminating the contract and you may not be fully responsible for the legal fees claimed by the prior attorney. Also, if your lawyer terminates you without cause, the lawyer may not collect fees which would have been paid if the lawyer completed the work.

Why Should I Seek Representation From Inland Empire Law Group?

The Inland Empire Law Group may consider taking on a case that was started or handled by another attorney. Once you meet with our staff, you will be able to see we are highly qualified and desire to meet or exceed your expectations. You may want to hire our firm at your initial meeting. However, in many instances, we advise individuals not to change attorneys because we see the work performed is within the standard of care for personal injury attorneys. We may make recommendations to perform certain acts to work with your current attorney before deciding to make a change. Unless your attorney is truly not doing his or her job, we often decline the transfer of an ongoing case. On the other hand, if there appears a real need for you to change counsel, we will help you with that process, and will if we agree with you, we will represent you and work hard for your benefit.

Inland Empire Law Group’s attorneys have extensive experience assisting California residents in settling personal injury claims. Please call (888) MY IE LAW to schedule a free, no-obligation consultation at either our Rancho Cucamonga or Victorville offices.