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How Do I Fire My Lawyer?
Firing your attorney is something that you should carefully consider. Sometimes, even if you feel like your attorney is not doing their job, the detriment to doing so may greatly outweigh the benefits to be gained. For example, if your attorney has started negotiating with the insurance company and they have made an offer, then that attorney will probably have a “lien” on your case. You can find out by looking at the retainer agreement that you signed with them. A typical agreement will allow the attorneys to have a lien of 30% on cases that they get a settlement offer on. Typical language also allows them to make a claim for the value of the time they have put into your case. So, if they can claim that they put 20 hours into your case, then at an hourly rate of $200 per hour, they have a lien of $4,000. Not a small amount. The problem arises for clients who have large liens because of the problem of finding an attorney who will want to take their case with a lien attached to it. This is so because the second attorney will basically be working for the first one to get their lien paid before the second attorney can get a fee on the case. Unless the lien is well below the expected value of the case, most attorneys will not want to get involved. Some attorneys don’t want to get involved anyway on the assumption that you are a “problem client” or “damaged goods.” This is why on a number of occasions, I have attempted to talk prospective clients out of leaving their attorney.
You also need to consider who your next attorney will be after you fire this one. Do you have an exit plan in place? Is there an attorney waiting in the wings who has told you they will help you with your case?
The last thing you want to do is fire your lawyer, who may have gone out on a limb in the first place by taking your case, and then find out you can’t replace him or her. And then you find out that the original attorney, who actually now feels relieved that you fired her, doesn’t want you back. This is a bad situation to be in. If your case is very strong, however, some of these concerns may not be there and finding a good replacement attorney won’t be that difficult.
In cases where the injury has just happened and where there is no offer on the table, the lien will be much less. Sometimes in the early stages, there is no lien at all. And in cases where you can honestly say that your attorney has done nothing on the case, or “dropped the ball,” you have a good argument to use for getting out of the lien.
Which brings us to actually firing the attorney. This can be done in a number of ways. The quickest way is to call up your attorney (or their assistant) and tell them that they are fired. You should also tell them that you want a copy of your file. You can either have them send it to you or tell them that you will be by to pick it up personally. When you call, you should be prepared to defend your decision to fire them. In other words, you need to be firm about it or they may try and “talk you out of it.” (If your are ambivalent, then this may not necessarily be a bad thing.) Another way to leave your lawyer is to write them a letter and mail it to them. In your letter, you should let them know they are fired and request a copy of your file. You don’t have to give any explanation, but I would recommend in cases where you feel that they weren’t doing their job, tell them so. Perhaps this will cause them to take a closer look at fixing problems that may be there. This will also make it less likely that they will impose a lien on your case.
Yet another way to fire your attorney is to simply show up at their office and tell them that you are firing them and for them to make a copy of your file while you wait. Depending on where the file is and who has it, it may take some time to put this together. All things considered, it is probably best to give them advance notice that you will be asking for a copy of your file.
Which brings us to the next point I want to make: you are entitled to a copy of your file. Don’t let your attorney’s office tell you that you are not entitled to it or that you have to pay for the records they collected or that you have to pay their attorney lien before you can get your file. If they say this, tell them that you will be calling the Utah State Bar. Their phone number is (801) 531-9077.
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