You as a client have an absolute right to fire, or “discharge,” your lawyer at any time. By signing a retainer, that does not mean that a client is joined at the hip with his or her lawyer until the bitter end. This holds true no matter what type of case, or what type of retainer the client has signed. A client may fire their current lawyer at any time and hire better representation.
There are many types of litigation retainers. Many retainers are hourly. An hourly retainer means the client gives the lawyer money up front. The client then pays the lawyer out of that up front portion a set amount hourly for work performed.
Different retainer types apply to other types of litigation, such as personal injury law. Personal injury has what is called a “contingent fee retainer.” A client who signs a contingent fee retainer does not give money to the lawyer at the outset of litigation. Instead, the attorney’s fee is contingent upon the client collecting money at the end of the case. However, no retainer gives your lawyer any power to keep you as a client. The client is always the one in charge of whether the attorney-client relationship continues. If a client fires his or her lawyer, the lawyer must abide by the client’s decision. It is important for clients to understand the practical aspects of discharging an attorney.
Many clients have the same question when they are unhappy with their current representation: How do I go about firing or discharging my lawyer? If a client feels dissatisfied with their attorney, they should interview new lawyers. In personal injury law, consultations are typically free. Once the client finds a new lawyer they like, the client must sign a “Consent to Change Attorney” form. At that point, the prior attorney no longer represents the client.
The new lawyer will then contact the prior attorney and retrieve the case file from them. The new attorney will also file the Consent to Change Attorney form with the court. Importantly, the client will not have to contact the prior attorney at any point during this process.
If a client wants to change attorneys but does not have another lawyer in mind yet, they can write a letter to the current attorney. The letter should state that the client wishes to discharge the lawyer from the case. It should also ask that the lawyer stop working on the matter immediately. The client should also pick up the entire case file from the attorney. Also, the client should have the attorney prepare a list of work performed on the case and a final bill (if applicable), which includes disbursements.
When a client fires their attorney during the course of litigation and there is a contingent fee retainer in place, the outgoing attorney will assert a lien on the case for work performed from the day the retainer is signed through turning the file over. The outgoing attorney is entitled to receive payment for the services that he or she performed on the case. Generally, the prior attorney and the new attorney will have to work that issue out at the end of the case. If the attorneys cannot agree on an attorney fee allocation, they will arbitrate that issue. But don’t worry: the client will not be involved in that aspect of the case. Fee allocation will be resolved when there is a settlement.
A client should be happy with his or her attorney. The attorney is the person that will be the client’s representative in the lawsuit. That person has to be someone the client trusts and who has the client’s wishes and best interests in mind. And if a client does not feel that way, they have every right to look elsewhere.