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Can I fire my current personal injury attorney?

This article was reviewed by Freddy Saavedra for accuracy. Visit Freddy Saavedra's LinkedIn Profile

A healthy attorney-client relationship is an integral part of any legal case. Trust and mutual respect are necessary to ensure a smooth legal process, even though both parties aren’t required to be friends. When something doesn't feel right in an interaction with an attorney, the client may wonder, “Can I fire my current personal injury attorney?”

This question is important, and while most clients can fire their attorneys, it’s helpful to know when it is a good idea not to.

What happens when clients decide to end a professional relationship with their lawyers

A client has a legal right to fire their personal injury attorney in the State of Arizona for any reason. Furthermore, the client also has the right to seek outside counsel for their case before making that decision. An attorney may also choose to terminate the relationship with a client for a series of reasons. Being able to recognize issues before they become problems is key to a better case outcome and peace of mind.

Any issue that arises when working with an attorney should be raised by the client and addressed by the attorney. If there is a lack of responsiveness from the attorney, it can be considered a warning sign that the client’s doubts are justified. To make the best decision for their case, clients should ask themselves fair questions before firing their personal injury attorney.

If the reason for terminating a personal injury lawyer has to do with factors beyond his or her control, the client should not hold their current attorney accountable. If the decision is based on a pattern of behavior that dissolves trust, then the client should take action.

Can I change my lawyer in the middle of a personal injury case?

The Arizona State Bar investigates lawyers that engage in illegal practices, and it is taken very seriously. Legal prosecution follows if the attorney is found to be guilty of misconduct. However, not all practices conducted by an injury attorney are grounds for prosecution. That said, there are valid reasons to terminate a professional relationship if a client is uncomfortable and, overall, unhappy with the service.

Clients could fire their legal counsel if one or more of these warning signs become recurrent before or during a case:

  • The attorney shows clear signs of ineptitude and a lack of confidence
  • The client cannot reach their attorney, and the latter fails to return correspondence
  • The attorney refuses to give clients personal files
  • The attorney-client relationship has been permanently damaged
  • The client suspects that their current personal injury attorney is engaging in unethical practices

Lawyers that lack knowledge in their field significantly harm their clients in court. Competent personal injury lawyers maximize the financial compensation of their clients and work to serve their best interests. When a lawyer seems inept and unknowledgeable, clients should trust their gut and seek the legal advice of another attorney.

Not being responsive is the most commonly-cited reason for firing an attorney. A competent personal injury lawyer has the staff, resources, and time-management skills to accommodate all the clients they take on. Responsiveness is so important that the Arizona Bar requires it from their lawyers. An attorney who does not respond is not upholding their duties.

Lawyers should not refuse to give their clients access to their personal files during the case. Not being transparent about customer files is a warning sign that information may be hidden from the client. Perhaps the attorney hasn’t even worked on the case and knows that the files will show their lack of care. This trait alone can be grounds for firing a current personal injury attorney as it will have serious outcomes on your case.

The relationship between clients and their attorneys does not have to be very friendly, but it must be professional. Both parties should be comfortable communicating clearly. Professional boundaries and respectful interaction are most often the only requirements needed for a working relationship. If these are violated, a client should seek another attorney to manage their case.

If an attorney is engaging in illegal practices, the client should notify the Bar immediately and cease working with him or her. In Arizona, lawyers must abide by the rules set forth by the Arizona Supreme Court, or they will be investigated and prosecuted.

What to do before you fire your attorney

The client should take the following steps when firing their attorney:

  • All contracts and agreements made with the attorney should be reviewed
  • The client may have to pay eligible attorney fees
  • A new personal injury attorney should be hired before firing the current one
  • The court must be informed of all changes once the attorney is fired

In most personal injury cases, clients don’t have to pay additional fees if a new attorney is hired. The client pays one attorney fee for the case, which is proportionately distributed among the firms based on how long they worked on a case. If an advanced period was taken on the case from the first lawyer, however, the new lawyer may not be as inclined to accept the case given the limited amount of funds he or she is set to receive.

The client must pay any dues or fees if he or she owes their lawyer. Similarly, the attorney must return any advance fees that were taken from the client for unused services. To stay on the safe side, it is recommended that the client sends a certified letter to the attorney they are firing. The letter should explicitly state that the client-attorney relationship has been terminated. A request for the transfer of personal files should be made in the letter.

Once a client decides to fire their current attorney, they should hire a new one before formalizing the termination. This step is necessary because not having an attorney in the meantime can lead to long waiting times to find a new one, and the case may not move forward.

As soon as an attorney is fired, the court should be made aware of the client’s decision. The attorney should also inform the court that he or she is no longer working on the case by submitting a motion to withdraw. 

Can an attorney decide not to work with a client?

Lawyers may sometimes choose to stop working on a case. It may be due to the details related to the case itself, profit (or lack thereof), or it may be due to the client.

Some reasons why an injury attorney stops working on a case are:

  1. Profit: The case is not profitable for the attorney
  2. Resources: Not enough resources are available for the attorney
  3. Client: The client is unreasonable or leaves out important case details
  4. Exhaustion: There are too many cases to handle, especially if the attorney works alone
  5. Verdict: The attorney knows that he or she cannot win the case
The bottom line about firing your personal injury attorney

If the differences that exist between a client and attorney are manageable, the discomfort may be due to a lack of communication. Often, miscommunication can cause unease and discord. During a personal injury case, which is often stressful enough, the added burden of not being comfortable with a personal injury attorney can seriously harm a client’s chances of success.

Most clients are happy with their current attorneys, but if the relationship sours, it does not have to last for the duration of the trial. Clients must be fair and balanced when making the choice to fire an attorney. If the direction of a case is not favorable for the client, he or she may think that it is the fault of the lawyer.

Since a personal injury attorney is most likely working in the best interest of the client, the decision to fire him or her should be made with care. The most crucial factor to consider is overall satisfaction in the lawyer’s competence and integrity. If these traits are present, the lawyer should not be fired. If the attorney seems ill-prepared or unethical, and the client is unhappy, then it is time to look for a new lawyer.

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