You are always entitled to fire your personal injury lawyer, but that doesn't mean it's always a good idea. It's important to consider whether the time has really come to fire your lawyer, and what will happen to your case if you do decide to go that route.
Is It Time to Fire Your Lawyer?
There are almost as many reasons to fire your personal injury lawyer as there are types of personal injury claims. Some of these reasons include:
- Lack of communication -- the lawyer doesn’t return your phone calls, letters, or emails. This is a common client complaint, but if it becomes a chronic problem, your case could suffer.
- Nothing seems to be happening in your case, and the lawyer does not have an adequate and reasonable explanation for the lack of progress.
- You and your lawyer simply do not get along.
- Your lawyer and you seem to be on a different wavelength -- for example, you might insist on going to trial, and your lawyer insists on settling the case, or vice versa. (Why Do Most Personal Injury Claims Settle?)
- Your lawyer seems incompetent, or seriously out of his/her league.
- Your lawyer appears to be acting unethically.
- Your lawyer has missed deadlines.
- Your lawyer won’t let you look at your file or seems to be keeping things from you.
- Your lawyer will not help you with responding to discovery -- i.e., your lawyer won’t help you answer the defense attorney’s written questions (interrogatories) or won’t prepare you for your deposition (or his/her “help” was seriously lacking).
If you find yourself in any of these situations, you may wish to meet with your lawyer to talk it out before making a final decision to fire him/her, or you could just say that your lawyer their chance and clearly blew it, and now you’re going to look for another lawyer. (There's an in-between option too: Should I Get a Second Opinion About My Personal Injury Case?)
Keep in mind that it is your case, not the lawyer’s, and you have the absolute right to fire your lawyer at any time, except possibly right before or during trial. Once a trial date has been set, many judges will not let a client fire a lawyer, if doing so will cause a delay in the trial date. So, once a trial date has been set, you will probably not be able to fire your lawyer unless the new lawyer can stick to the trial schedule with no extensions.
What Will Happen to Your Case?
First of all, if you do fire your lawyer, it's important to be aware that he or she is still entitled to a fee for the time put in on the case. However, this fee will rarely, if ever, come out of your pocket. In almost every state, the total legal fees for your case -- based on your contingency fee agreement with the first lawyer -- will be split between all lawyers that end up representing you.
Most personal injury lawyers will treat this situation -- where they come on board mid-case -- as a referral, and will give the fired lawyer one-third of the total legal fee. But, if the new lawyer doesn’t want to give the first lawyer one-third, or, if the first lawyer won’t accept only one-third, then the two lawyers will have to fight it out after your case is settled or goes to trial. Although you might get called as a witness in the fight between the two lawyers, the fight is just between them. It will rarely if ever affect the amount of money that you get from the case.