Can You Switch Attorneys In The Middle Of A Case?
There are times a defendant may be unsatisfied with their hired lawyer and when this happens, it is perfectly acceptable to discharge their attorney to hire a new one. Most attorney-client agreements typically advise clients that they have the right to discharge their attorneys. Court approval is not usually necessary for this order, but there may be some consequences when making the decision to change attorneys in the midst of a case.
People decide to switch attorneys for many reasons. Sometimes it just isn’t a good fit between client and attorney, or other specific reasons such as:
- lack of communication
- poor performance in the courtroom
- pushing for an unfavorable settlement
- not understanding the issues at hand
- lack of experience or preparation
If you feel as though any of these reasons are relative to you in your case, it may be time to seek out another attorney.
Exceptions to Switching Attorneys
In some situations, the judge directing the case may not permit the defendant to hire a new attorney. When a defendant tries switching attorneys right before trial, it can be seen as a tactic working against the prosecutor who may have limited time for certain witnesses to testify.
A client also may have switched attorneys several times, and the judge may feel another switch may be to delay their trial. A judge will be more reasonable in granting a defendant’s request to change lawyers if there are fundamental differences between client and attorney, or if the attorney is failing to file motions that could harm the defendant’s case.
Alternatives to Changing Lawyers
While a client is free to change attorneys, it may be in the client’s best interest depending on their scenario to consider alternatives. Many problems are able to be solved using open communication. If a client is not content with their representation, it is important to vocalize this directly with their lawyer. There is a possibility that this attorney is making decisions based on a particular strategy, and the lawyer has not properly communicated something well at the time, but may have legitimate reason in their choices.
The client may decide to consult with another attorney about the problem. If that attorney agrees they would have pursued the same course of action, it may be more clear to the client the method was not inherently flawed and they just did not thoroughly understand the process. If a lawyer is part of a firm, a client may request speaking to their lawyer’s superior and ask what can be done to solve the problem. In some situations, a case may be moved to another attorney in the firm, which keeps the file in-house and lets the original attorney help the new one on the case.
How is a Case Transitioned to a New Lawyer?
If there are no alternatives available for you when switching attorneys, the process of transitioning to a new one is relatively easy. Once you’ve consulted and hired your new lawyer, they will take the following steps:
- File a notice of appearance of lead counsel
- File a motion to substitute counsel
- Give a proposed order on substitution
- When the order has been signed by all/both attorneys and the client, the order will be presented to a judge to be signed
- Files will be obtained from the previous lawyer and given to your new attorney
This process is typically handled between both law offices, or within the same firm, and the client does not need to be involved unless they choose to. This entire process also can be accomplished immediately after filing the notice of lead counsel.
Disadvantages When Switching Attorney
Firing a lawyer and hiring their replacement may carry some consequences. If you’ve given your original lawyer the chance to fix the problems addressed and they’re unable to resolve your issues, you have a right to replace them. The original lawyer will still be entitled to the work that they already have done. If you’re current with your payments, this is not an issue, but before moving forward with your new lawyer, you will need to finalize what is owed to the lawyer pursuant to your retainer agreement. If your lawyer had been working on a contingency or percentage fee basis, you may be required to pay that lawyer’s hourly rate for the time they have already spent on your case, plus any other expenses.
There are additional costs that come when hiring your new lawyer, and if you are deciding to hire a lawyer in the middle of the case there may be payment required for getting the new lawyer up to speed.
Occasionally, there is a possibility you may not be able to switch lawyers depending on how far along your case is. Judges have discretion to keep a lawyer if the case has gone on too long in court to have a new person take over.
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