I have a personal injury case. The lawyer is working on a contingent fee. As far as I can tell he is going nothing. He doesn’t return my phone calls. He has had my case for six months and no lawsuit has been filed or, if it has, nobody has told me it has. I have lost confidence in this lawyer and want to fire him. However, I can’t afford to pay him for whatever work he might claim he has done. What should I do?
First, I would encourage you to give the lawyer one more chance to explain what is going on and why he will not respond to you. If you had a good reason to hire this lawyer in the first place, you should make an effort to give him a chance to explain his conduct.
If you hired this lawyer on a whim, or if you feel you have given him plenty of chances and you have lost all confidence in him, you can fire him whenever you want to. More importantly, you almost certainly do not have to pay him at this time for the work he has done.
What usually happens in these situations is the client finds a new lawyer and the new lawyer and the old lawyer work out a reasonable division of the contingent fee for the work done on the case. Thus, the fee will probably not increase for you and the former lawyer’s fee will be paid at the time your case is resolved (if it is successful).
However, you should know that it is sometimes difficult to find a lawyer to take over a case from another lawyer, particularly if there has been a lot of activity in the case before the first lawyer was fired. Also, a lawyer cannot discuss the substance of a case with the client of another lawyer without the permission of the current lawyer, so you may not know that another lawyer will actually take your case if you fire your first lawyer.
The issues that arise from having to fire a lawyer are yet another reason why you should do appropriate research before you hire a lawyer. Our Legal Guide, "Understanding How to Hire a Lawyer in a Personal Injury or Wrongful Death Case," can help you will that. It will also help you in determining who to hire if you decide to fire your first lawyer.