Can I fire my attorney?
Absolutely yes. As a business owner, you can fire your attorney or any other business advisor at any time. Even if you attorney is currently representing you or your business in a court case, you can fire that attorney without notice. Once a case is ongoing, though, you may need to get the Court's permission to change attorneys.
Firing your attorney doesn't mean you can get out of paying him or her. You must pay for services rendered up to the date of firing, even if you dispute those services or you feel the services were not adequate in some way.
Before you fire your attorney
Before you take the step of firing your attorney, consider why you are taking this action. Cutting off a relationship with a trusted business advisor can have negative consequences for you and your business. For example, if you are in the middle of litigation, either as the defendant or plaintiff, you will have to find a new attorney and this can cost more time and money and set back the progress on your case.
Consider answering these questions before you take the step of firing your attorney:
- What is the specific thing I'm upset with? Is is something that came out of a case, or is it a problem with this attorney? A problem with a case might be easily solved with better communication, while a problem with the attorney in general might be a personality conflict that can't be resolved.
- Is the attorney doing everything in a timely manner? Does my attorney respond to questions and concerns quickly and completely? Or does he/she not get back to me quickly when I have a question?
- Will firing my attorney have serious negative consequences for an ongoing court case? Is it better to wait until after the case is over?
Some reasons to fire an attorney
- If the attorney isn't acting in a professional or ethical manner. If your attorney is asking you to do things or telling you he/she is going to do things you feel are not ethical, you shouldn't work with that person.
- If the attorney isn't responsive to your needs, by not responding to concerns, answering questions quickly and completely, or ignoring phone calls or emails
- If the attorney doesn't seem to understand your case
- If the attorney makes promises and then doesn't fulfill them. An attorney who promises that a can will be won is just not being honest. No one can know the outcome of a case and good attorneys just don't promise a win.
Before you fire your attorney...
Before you take the final step of firing your attorney, do two things:
- Sometimes interpersonal conflict is the result of misunderstanding, so have a conversation about your concerns. Explain why you are not satisfied with the attorney and lay out your expectations for the relationship. Talk about how both of you can work to make communications better. If your concerns relate to a specific case, talk about expectations for the case and ask your attorney to be honest about the outcome.
- You might also consider talking to another attorney about your general concerns, especially if they involve a particular case. Although an attorney can't comment on the details of a case, and you shouldn't divulge details, you can ask about the type of case and how these kinds of cases usually go. Another attorney might give you a better understanding of why a case is not going well or why this kind of case is more difficult to win than you thought. Another attorney will also not comment on the responsiveness or ethics of another attorney, but you might find out that your attorney is giving you the best advice possible, considering the circumstances.
If you think your attorney has committed an ethics violation, contact your state bar association for information.
The firing process:
If you have definitely decided to fire your attorney, here are the steps you should take:
- First, you should hire a new attorney, especially if you are in the middle of a court case. Ask your new attorney to get files from the previous attorney and to handle notification of the Court for ongoing court cases. Let the new attorney know your progress on the firing.
- Look in your business records to see what kind of agreement you have with your attorney: retainer, contingency, or fee. If you have a written agreement or retainer contract with your attorney, review the agreement to see what it says about terminating the relationship. Follow the agreement in timing and notifications.
- Send a certified or registered letter (so you have a record of receipt) that states your intent to terminate the relationship effective immediately upon receipt of the letter and ordering your attorney to stop working on any matters in process. You don't need to give an explanation; it's not necessary. Request all your files or notify the attorney that your new attorney's office will be requesting those files and request cooperation.
- In the letter, request a refund of fees paid for work not yet performed. Ask for an itemized bill detailing fees for all pending work and any expenses. If the former attorney was working on a case on contingency, your new attorney will take care of settling up with the former attorney.
Firing someone is never pleasant or easy, but sometimes it's necessary. Your handling of the breakup in a businesslike manner will help everyone deal with the situation more easily.