How to Change Lawyers in the Middle of Your Case

How to Change Lawyers in the Middle of Your Case

It is not uncommon for litigants to switch attorneys in the middle of their case. We estimate that 40-50% of our new clients hire us as a replacement for a prior attorney. The process may seem confusing or inefficient, but this is often not the case.

Signs it May Be Time to Switch Attorneys

People switch attorneys for many reasons. Sometimes, the attorney and the client just aren’t a good fit. Other times, there are more substantial reasons. We find that the top signs that you may need to change attorneys are:

Lack of Communication

This one is a big one. The number one complaint clients have about their lawyers is lack of communication. It’s crucial that a lawyer not only actively communicates with his or her client, but the lawyer should be proactive in communication. The client should never feel left in the dark or left waiting for answers. 

Poor Performance in the Courtroom

Sometimes, things are going great in the attorney-client relationship, but then the client sees his or her lawyer in the courtroom. To be frank, some lawyers just aren’t cut out for the courtroom. The lawyer may not have the experience necessary to try a hearing or a case. The lawyer may not have the ability to communicate effectively with a judge or a jury. If you feel uncomfortable with your lawyer’s performance in the courtroom, it is probably for a good reason, and it is time to switch.

Pushing You to Settle Unfavorably

Along these same lines, lawyers that are not comfortable in the courtroom, or are unfamiliar with the courtroom, tend to push their clients firmly to settle, even when the settlement is unfavorable to their client. The lawyer may simply not have the experience or the attitude necessary to understand when it is time to draw a line and insist on a better settlement or trial. Understanding that balance takes experience, both outside and inside the courtroom. If the lawyer does not understand that dynamic, the client will be pressured into an inadequate settlement.

Not Understanding the Issues/Lack of Experience

As surprising as it may seem, your lawyer may not be well versed in the issues in your case. Experience really does matter. Board certification really does matter. If your lawyer does not have the experience necessary for your case, you should find one who does.

Lack of Preparation

Never put up with a lack of preparation. Your lawyer is handling your life, and there is nothing worse than a client watching a lawyer not know all the facts of the case or not be prepared to present the case. Preparation is one of the most important things lawyers do. If your lawyer is unprepared, you will not see good results.

Over-billing

Finally, if you feel your lawyer is over-billing, it is probably time to consult with another attorney. We are very clear with our clients – this is not a cheap product. That said, we also believe in charging honest rates for honest work, which is why we are so open about how we bill. If your lawyer charges you for work that isn’t done, find one who bills honestly and openly. 

How is a Case Transitioned to a New Lawyer?

The process of transitioning to a new lawyer is relatively simple. Once you consult with and hire a new lawyer, the new lawyer will take the following steps:

  1. File a notice of appearance of lead counsel;
  2. File a motion to substitute counsel; 
  3. Circulate a proposed order on substitution;
  4. Once the order is signed by all attorneys and the client; present the order for a judge’s signature;
  5. Obtain the file from the prior lawyer; and
  6. Get to work!

This process is accomplished between the two law offices, and the client does not have to be involved unless he or she wants to. This entire process, particularly the filing of the notice of lead counsel, can be accomplished immediately. 

Common Questions When Transitioning Attorneys

Some common questions when transitioning to a new attorney are:

  • What happens to my file?
    The file belongs to the client and should be transitioned to the new lawyer immediately.
  • What happens to the funds the client has in trust with the old lawyer?
    Once the prior lawyer is replaced, the trust funds held by that lawyer should immediately go to the client, or, if authorized by the client, go directly to the new lawyer.
  • Will my prior lawyer be upset?
    It usually isn’t a surprise to the lawyer that he or she is getting replaced. The old lawyer may be the one referring the case to the new lawyer. Having a client switch lawyers is not uncommon, and nobody should feel uncomfortable or upset.
  • Will the transition delay the case?
    We find that the transition to our office rarely delays a case. We are set up to seamlessly transition a case and take over a new file to avoid delays or additional expenses in the transition.
  • When is it too late to switch?
    The answer to this question is never. We are often hired right before trial, or as a trial is rapidly approaching. We’re also often hired after a hearing or mediation has not gone well, and a lot of work is on the horizon. Because we focus so much on efficiency and communication, we can take over a case up to literally the last minute and be ready to hit the ground running.
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