Every once in a while, an attorney will get a call from an aggrieved client, complaining about his/her current attorney and seeking to make a change. Given the stakes that lawyers hold in their hands, this is not surprising. After all, attorneys handle all kinds of personal matters, and the results of their work profoundly affects their clients. Emotional strain and frustration with the process moving along too slowly, or an adverse ruling can, sometimes, cloud the perspective of a client, particularly one that is not well schooled in the law. For many people, including attorneys, our legal system can seem to move at a snail’s pace or seem unfair.
However, also true is that some attorneys and clients simply are not the right match. Retaining an attorney is much like choosing a doctor – people tend to choose them based on recommendations, whether or not that attorney matches their personal values or personality. There are times that becomes a problem. There are times that clients feel no connection to their attorneys, and therefore, do not see the work behind the scenes that goes into representing them.
There are other times that a client chooses an attorney who he/she believes just is not performing well – that may be correct or incorrect. But before deciding to change representation, there are things to consider.
You Just Can’t Get a Return Call
It can be frustrating. You are awaiting a decision, or you are awaiting a trial date, and your attorney has not returned your phone call. That should not happen. But, sometimes there are mitigating circumstances creating this negative impression. The attorney-client relationship can be complicated. Your attorney might be in the middle of another trial. Or, she may not have received any answer to your question. If your attorney is a solo practitioner, he may be handling dozens of cases and intends to call you back as soon as possible.
Before deciding to end your relationship, it is wise to write your attorney a letter, explaining your position as well as your displeasure. He/she likely will take that very seriously.
If after sending a letter, you still do not hear back, it might be time to find another lawyer.
You Don’t Like How Your Lawyer’s Handling Your Case
Your attorney has an obligation to you to:
•Determine what is most important to you;
•Give you realistic expectations;
•Put your well being first;
•Keep your confidences;
•Fully explain all legal fees.
If your attorney, for example, believes it is in your best interest to call a particular witness, you might not agree. Or, perhaps you are in the midst of a personal injury case and your attorney advises you to continue medical treatment; or to not attempt returning to work before your doctor tells you to do so, and you need the money. In these instances, your attorney is not mishandling your case, he/she is just trying to strengthen it.
On the other hand, if you decided to cease all medical treatment, and your attorney did not advise against it, that could be problematic. Or, if your attorney were to accept a settlement without discussing it with you, that would be mishandling of your case and it would be unethical.
Legal Fees Are Too High
This is a common complaint. After a client signs a retainer agreement, and after the legal bills start to come in, he is shocked at how much he is spending for representation.
First, protect yourself by making certain that all details of the legal fees are in your retainer agreement. Read it over carefully, then read it again.
Oftentimes, clients will retain an attorney on a contingency basis (meaning, the attorney only gets paid if you win). But, there are other expenses that you are responsible for such as paying for expert witnesses, fees for medical records, or travel that are necessities to strengthen the case. Most attorneys will specify these possible expenses in the retainer agreement, and should make it clear that you are responsible for paying them, whether or not she is working on a contingency basis. If this is not spelled out in the retainer agreement, then you have good reason to question the charges and the attorney’s judgment.
The bottom line is, you can change attorneys whether for a personality conflict or for reasons relating to your case. But before you do, make sure that you have all the information and that you have tried to improve the relationship. Some cases can be very complex, and changing attorneys mid-stream may not always be the most prudent course of action. However, after considering all the factors, if you’ve determined that your current attorney does not meet your expectations, be diligent in choosing your the one.