Things to Consider Before Firing Your Attorney

Cartoon of a pointed finger pushing an attorney off the end of a red line to fire him.
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As a business owner, you can fire your attorney or any other business advisor at any time. Even if your 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 your attorney for services rendered up to the date of the 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 it 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 you should fire them. Your attorney should not ask you to do things or telling you they are going to do things that you feel are not ethical. You shouldn't work with a person who does not act in a noble or straightforward manner.

You may not have immediate contact with your attorney at all times. However, if you feel they are continually unresponsive to your needs, do not respond to concerns or answer your questions in a timely manner you may consider replacing them. You should not feel like they are ignoring your phone calls or emails

If the attorney makes promises and then doesn't fulfill them this should raise a red flag. An attorney who promises that a case will be won is just not being honest. No one can know the outcome of a case, and good attorneys don't promise a win.

Also, consider replacing your attorney if they don't seem to understand your case

Before You Fire Your Attorney

Do two things:

Before you let your attorney go, explain why you are not satisfied with the attorney and describe your expectations for the relationship. Talk about ways that you both can work to make communications better and save the relationship.

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. 

If you think your attorney has committed an ethics violation, contact your state bar association for information.

The Process

If you have decided to fire your attorney, there are 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 at 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 on 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 the 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.