For example, your case has been going on for some time and you’re getting bad vibes when you’re even thinking about your divorce attorney. Indeed, it’s common that clients lose faith and confidence in their divorce lawyers, especially when their cases have been going on for some time.
Of course, it’s not the best case scenario for you to have to deal with this situation when your actual divorce is taking such an emotional toll on you. The stress of your divorce and the stress of your situation with your lawyer may be causing you to near your boiling point.
Months ago, you thought you had this particular issues handled—hiring a divorce attorney—but you are starting to wonder if you made the right choice.
What are the real reasons you should fire your lawyer? Are you losing confidence because of the stress on you and the real difficulty of your divorce case? Or are the reasons actually something that you should seriously consider and fire your divorce attorney? And how do you fire your lawyer? What are the steps involved in terminating your divorce attorney?
What are the reasons for firing your divorce attorney?
You are unhappy with your lawyer. Perhaps you have some very good reasons or you may just be emotional and unhappy with everything in your life at this point.
It can be a very tough decision to fire your divorce attorney and hire someone else who you believe can do a better job for you. You spent loads of time finding someone you felt was competent and cared about you. But now, months later, you feel that something is wrong. Remember, you are not obligated to stay with a lawyer who is not meeting your expectations.
How do you know that you have valid concerns that should warrant looking into firing your lawyer or just personal emotional problems that you need to deal with? The following is a list of some justifiable problems that you might have with your attorney that could cause you to take action.
Your lawyer doesn’t respond to phone calls or emails
The single biggest complaint that clients have about their lawyers is that they don’t return their phone calls or emails. Most lawyers who fail to respond to their clients should know that their client will probably fire them at some point.
You may feel that you have no idea what is going on in your case–what is the current status–if any communications have been received by your lawyer or if they are even working on your divorce case. In short, you feel completely in the dark. It is also not conducive to a good team environment.
There is absolutely no excuse for this type of conduct—it is against a lawyer’s ethical obligations towards their clients—and any lawyer that doesn’t return communication attempts is begging to be removed from the case. Your phone calls should be returned at least within one day.
If you are paying your lawyer and not receiving a prompt return call, you may want to consider firing him or her immediately.
You disagree about case strategy
Perhaps your spouse is trying to be reasonable and settle your divorce case, but your attorney is trying to make you go to trial on some issues you feel are not important. Or perhaps your attorney is strongly recommending that you settle for a low ball offer when you feel the best course of action is to go to trial to at least try to get a better result.
Perhaps you have spoken to other lawyers to get second opinions and you have uncovered some new paths forward and ways to save money that you have suggested to your attorney, but he has simply brushed you off and not taken you seriously.
The truth is that you and your divorce attorney are a team, a team with a goal to wrap up your case with the best result as possible. If one member of the team is simply being ignored, then the team will fail to reach it’s goal.
You must feel that the strategy and tactics being employed by your attorney are ones that are designed to help you reach your goals. If you feel that you are extremely uncomfortable with where your divorce case is headed, it may be time to make a move and change the team by firing your divorce attorney.
Your attorney doesn’t understand your case
Did you hire a young, inexperienced lawyer? Perhaps you thought you would save some money and you thought this younger attorney must still be competent?
Do you feel that your lawyer just doesn’t seem to get it? They don’t understand how the law and facts relate to your divorce and your situation. Perhaps it’s because your lawyer does not focus on family law, but instead works in a variety of areas, like criminal law, civil litigation or even real estate.
They may be venturing far outside their area of focus and taking on your case, only to discover that they don’t have the expertise to effectively work on your case.
If you feel your lawyer does not have the experience or skill to handle the complexities of your case, which may make you feel uncomfortable, then you may be justified in changing your representation.
Your case drags on and on
You can’t seem to get a response from your lawyer in order to have them explain what is going on and why your case just seems to drag on and on. You feel that your lawyer may not be spending time on your case that you feel it deserves.
Typically, in cases like these, things just wander along without attempting to achieve the goal of finishing up. You may have a hearing or two about some of your issues, but then everyone in your case just seems to wait around for the next scheduled court date. Most people feel that they don’t need to check in with their lawyer because they are on top of the process.
The truth is that many divorce lawyers are very busy and have heavy caseloads, causing them to travel from court to court putting out fires rather than focusing on moving cases through the pipeline. Others just like to let their cases linger to keep billing their clients.
What is your divorce attorney doing to try to wrap up your case and letting you move on in your life? If your case isn’t progressing towards completion and a final judgment, your lawyer should have a a good reason.
Unprofessional or unethical behavior
A very good reason to fire your divorce attorney is if they have done something unethical or even acted in an unprofessional manner.
First and foremost, your attorney must be honest with you. There is no middle ground with honesty. If you have found out that your lawyer has lied to you, think no more—fire them. Honesty and trust are the cornerstones of a relationship between a lawyer and their client and once that bond is broken, it’s unlikely that the relationship with your attorney will ever work out.
If you find out that your divorce attorney has stolen money from you, then you should immediately fire that attorney and report them to the bar association for discipline, which can include disbarment for the attorney.
Your attorney should not reveal any information about you to anyone—including your spouse’s attorney. You shouldn’t need to ask your lawyer not to share your personal information, it’s their obligation under the state bar rules. Sometimes a lawyer can be close friends with your spouse’s lawyer and reveal a confidence to them.
That disclosure should interest the state bar and could also lead to discipline. If it happens, the trust is broken with your attorney and should lead you to seriously consider firing your divorce attorney.
Finally, you are paying an awful lot of money to your divorce attorney and deserve to be treated with basic courtesy and civility. Not returning phone calls or emails, making a negative comment to your spouse’s lawyer, being late or skipping meetings, not providing updates on your case are all serious unprofessional behaviors towards you that should be dealt with.
What should I do now?
It’s a pretty common situation to find that a client and their attorney may have a problem, like those described already, sometime in their case. Based upon what we have seen, it can be an extremely difficult situation for you to deal with, especially with the stress of your breakup. What should you do now?
First, if you feel that it’s a situation that can be repaired, then set an appointment with your lawyer and talk to them about your concerns. Sometimes, they have a reasonable explanation for what has happened or there could have just been a miscommunication. It happens. Clear the air and open up the lines of communication.
After you have this talk with your lawyer and you still don’t understand their explanation for something that concerns you, ask more questions.
After meeting and asking questions and you’re still not happy with the answers, then find another lawyer and talk to them about your situation. Get their advice after explaining what’s going on. They may tell you the same thing as your current lawyer. Unfortunately, it could be that you have been dealt a bad hand and have to tough it out.
But if they give you advice that seems reasonable and could help you out of this bad situation, seriously consider it.
There are downsides you should consider before you change out your divorce lawyer.
Your new lawyer is going to have to take time to read about your case and get up to speed. That could cause delays and will cost you money since your new lawyer will have to charge you for the time they spend reviewing your file and getting familiar with your case. So, get an understanding about the cost.
Also, if there is an upcoming court hearing, your new attorney may need time to prepare for that hearing—necessitating the need for a delay in the hearing.
Finally, you should understand that it will cost you to fire your lawyer and get a new one. At the very least, your new lawyer must meet with you and review the entire file to get an understanding of your case and the issues involved. It could get expensive.
How do I fire my divorce attorney?
So, you have decided to move on and find new representation. What do you do now? You have this lawyer representing you and you think you may owe them some money. What now?
Hire a new lawyer
Start to interview attorneys before you fire the old one. Once you hire the new lawyer, they will ask you to sign an agreement to have them represent you and ask you to sign another form called a Substitution of Attorney. They will forward the Substitution of Attorney on to your old lawyer for their signature and then file it with the court.
When they do that, they are officially your new lawyer.
Your new attorney will request that your old lawyer forward your entire file to them so that they can get started on your case. Your old lawyer has the right to copy your file for their records, but must forward it within a reasonable time, which is normally one or two weeks.
Understand that your new lawyer will charge you for all of this work. Of course, they will also charge you to review the file and everything that has happened in your case so far.
Notify your old lawyer in writing
The next thing you should do is end the relationship with your old lawyer by sending a certified or registered letter. That letter should clearly state you are ending the representation and that your old lawyer should not perform any work for you moving forward.
At this point, it is probably best to avoid getting into details about why you are ending the relationship. If the lawyer cares about your case and their clients, I would expect to receive a call asking for the reasons you are terminating the relationship.
For most lawyers, their termination should not be a surprise so you can be as honest about the reasons as you would feel comfortable, without getting nasty or bitter.
In the letter, you can request that the old lawyer communicate with your new attorney. You can also state that they should cooperate with and transfer your files as soon possible to your new divorce attorney. You can even set a deadline, if you think it’s necessary.
Pay your final bill
In your letter, request that your old lawyer immediately send you a final bill for their services. Even though you no longer want their representation, that does not relieve you of the obligation for any money you owe. In some cases, you may find the old lawyer may drag their feet in sending your file over to the new lawyer until their bill has been paid.
Pay the bill as quickly as you can and request a receipt from them. The receipt should state that you have paid up in full. If you can’t pay it in full, discuss a payment plan.
Make sure any remaining retainer is returned to you promptly. If they refuse to send you a check for the remainder, call the state bar association and ask them the procedure for getting it back.
Get your file
Make sure to follow up to make certain your new attorney has received the file after you terminate your old lawyer. Normally, they can’t do much work on the case or get up to speed until they receive it.
If you have a pending hearing date or trial, communicate that with your old lawyer so that they know it is it is imperative that the file be forwarded immediately. Any delay could cause problems in your case or even your current counsel to be completely unprepared for court.