The Truth About Switching Attorneys

Posted on Thursday, August 23rd, 2018 at 3:45 pm    

By: Jessica Zorn

There are two common ways you could end up with a different lawyer handling your case after you hire someone: (1) you may fire your attorney and hire someone new or (2) your attorney may refer your case to a different lawyer or firm.

Here is everything you need to know about navigating those processes, what it means for your civil case, and what’s going on behind the scenes.

Firing Your Attorney

Although you may feel like your civil attorney has total power over your case, you almost always have the power to fire your attorney and hire a new one. You may want to consider switching attorneys if your lawyer does not communicate with you, tells you about deadlines or hearings at the last minute, or if they are unable to explain why your case has not progressed in a long time.
There are a few important considerations when firing your attorney:

  • Call them first. If you are unsatisfied with your lawyer, call them first and see if there is an explanation for your frustrations. The court system is largely outside of an attorney’s control, and it is possible that there is a really good reason for whatever is bothering you. If you can’t get ahold of your lawyer right away, try to email your lawyer or ask to speak to that attorney’s paralegal or legal assistant. Assistants are more available than an attorney who could be scheduled to be in court for weeks at a time.
  • Ask to speak to a senior partner. If your lawyer is an associate in a firm, sometimes a senior partner would be willing to speak to you about how your case is going and why you are upset with your representation. It may be easier, faster and more efficient for you if the partner re-assigns your case to a different associate in the same firm instead of starting completely over with a new firm.
  • If you decide to fire your lawyer, do it in writing. Whether you do it via e-mail or snail mail, keep a copy of the firing letter you send to your attorney. It can be a simple letter stating that you no longer require his or her legal services for your claim or case.
  • Fire your attorney before you hire someone else. There are ethical rules that prevent lawyers from speaking to someone who already has an attorney. Generally, if you’re shopping around for new representation, the new lawyer will ask to see a copy of the letter you sent firing your old attorney. Keep that copy handy when you start looking to hire someone new.
  • Firing an attorney will probably lead to delays in your case. Your new lawyer will need to take some time collecting records and becoming familiar with your case. Be aware that these delays are inevitable – even if they may be worth it in the long run.

Having Your Case Referred

When your case is “referred,” that means your attorney has asked a different lawyer to take over the case. There are many good reasons for a lawyer to hand over a case, and the referral will likely benefit you.

Many civil injury claims have two stages: pre-lawsuit negotiation with the insurance company, and then the lawsuit itself if the parties are unable to settle.

One of the most common reasons for your case to be referred involves attorney expertise in these two areas. There are plenty of civil firms who specialize in negotiation before a lawsuit is ever filed. However, if the insurance company will not settle your claim for a fair number, then a lawsuit needs to be drafted – and your case will be in better hands if it’s being handled by a lawyer with litigation expertise.

On a related note, your case might turn out to be a type of claim that your first lawyer doesn’t normally handle, and a more specialized lawyer needs to work it.

Here are some things to keep in mind if your case is referred to a lawyer you have never met:

  • You will probably not be paying any extra for the new attorney. When your case is referred, that generally means that your old and new attorneys will split the original fees that you had already agreed to pay. You will not be paying for 2 attorneys or a double fee. However, it is always a good idea to verify with your new attorney that your contract with your first lawyer will still be honored.
  • There are usually good reasons for the referral. Call your original lawyer or your new lawyer to ask why your case is being transferred – generally, the change in hands will benefit your claim.
  • Lawyers only refer cases to other attorneys they trust. It can be intimidating to be assigned a new lawyer you’ve never spoken to or met. However, the lawyer you hired sent your case to someone else because he or she trusts them. Do not hesitate to call your original attorney and ask about their relationship with your new attorney, how often they have worked together, etc.
  • Your case may not be significantly delayed because of a referral. When a case is referred, usually the first attorney will send over your entire file to the new attorney. Because both the old and new lawyers are on your side (and they have a pre-existing relationship), the transition can generally be easily made from one lawyer to the next.

Whether you end up changing attorneys by choice or by referral, there are mechanisms in place to make sure your case is in the best hands for the job. Importantly, do not hesitate to contact your attorney (old or new) to ask questions until you feel comfortable with who is working your lawsuit.

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