Authored by Geoff Vaughan in Legal
Published on 01-28-2009
When one has to go through some difficulty in life, whether it involves being in trouble with the law, or such things as divorce or inheritance issues, often a lawyer is a person’s best friend. Even when everyone else seems to have turned against a person, the lawyer will stick by the person’s side and do everything in his power to make things right again. At least in theory. But what happens when the lawyer doesn’t quite have the person’s back as well as he should? Or what if the lawyer never returns phone calls or makes some obvious mistakes in defending one’s case? Sometimes a person has no choice but to fire his lawyer.
How to go about this is another story, however. It can be a delicate thing, firing a lawyer. One thing is for sure, though: everyone has a right to get rid of his or her lawyer at any time. That doesn’t mean that you’d be off the hook for the legal fees though. In fact, in most cases the attorney is supposed to be paid for everything done up until the time of the firing.
The main thing to do in dismissing a lawyer is to write a closing letter. Articulate all the reasons for this action in a polite, civil letter. There should be no exaggerations; only facts, including dates and times of events as they occurred. The letter should also request that the lawyer cease all communication with anyone else connected to the case.
One key item in the letter is the time and date you wish for the termination to occur. It could be immediately or next week, but there should be an obvious, concrete moment in time when this person stops being your lawyer. In addition, an accounting of the lawyer’s fees already paid, and ones still owed, should be included in the letter. In this section is where any dispute over the fees charged should be spelled out. Also, if there was any agreement made over a reduction or outright waiving of the fees, an explanation of that should go in this section as well.
Print an additional copy of the letter to keep as a reference, or for evidence if things turn ugly down the road. If the lawyer’s office is not close to you, it should be delivered via certified mail so there is a record of the lawyer’s office receiving it. The best way to deliver the letter if possible, though, is to hand deliver it. That way, you can pick up your file at the same time, although in some cases the lawyer will hang onto your file if you haven’t fully paid yet. Some states legally allow attorneys to do this.
And just as you would do when switching jobs, make sure you already have another lawyer in place before getting rid of the current one. Court cases can be difficult and fraught with surprises, so you really don’t want to spend any time without an attorney if you can help it. Firing a lawyer can be a stressful thing to do during an already stressful time. But as long as everything is documented carefully and the decision is not a rash one, changing attorneys can be done with a minimum of difficulty.