If you've recently suffered physical or emotional harm due to another's negligent or reckless actions, you may have already enlisted the services of personal injury attorneys and filed a lawsuit in your local trial court. However, even if you don't have much experience in the practice of law, there are some situations in which you and your attorney may not see eye-to-eye on how to handle your case. In other cases, you may be dissatisfied about the time (or effort) it takes to communicate with your attorney about the status of your case or your next steps. If you disagree with the way your case is being brought to trial, should you find a new attorney? What are your financial obligations if you switch counsel mid-case? Read on to learn more about the situations in which a change of attorney may be the best tactic, as well as some circumstances (and motivating factors) that could mean sticking it out is the smartest choice.
When should you seek a new attorney?
Each state sets forth its own rules and regulations for licensed attorneys through a code of professional conduct. If you're dissatisfied with one or more aspects of your current counsel's representation, you may want to review these rules to see whether the source of your dissatisfaction is actually prohibited by the state bar. Violations of these rules -- relating to communication, adequate representation, conflicts of interest, and excessive fees -- can subject your attorney to sanctions ranging from a private caution to disbarment. Most of these rules have been put into place to protect clients, so a violation by your attorney often means your case is already being put into jeopardy. You may want to seek the advice of new counsel.
However, if your attorney isn't breaking any rules and you're just dealing with a difference in litigation styles, you may want to have a face-to-face meeting before investigating your replacement options. Often, there are specific tactical reasons behind your attorney's decisions to admit certain evidence or exclude certain other potential claims, and understanding these reasons can help you accept the frustration that your attorney isn't proceeding exactly as you like. On the other hand, if your attorney doesn't have clear (or satisfactory) reasons behind the trial strategy, this may be the sign you need to find new counsel.
When (and why) shouldn't you change your attorney?
While there can be some valid reasons to switch legal counsel mid-proceeding, there are also some situations in which this can spell doom for your claim -- as well as some motivations that may not be in your best interest.
If you're being induced to switch your attorney because of an advertisement promising certain results or a low fee, you'll want to reevaluate. Even the best attorneys can never guarantee a specific case outcome, and most states' rules of professional conduct strictly prohibit such behavior from licensed attorneys. Leaving your current counsel for an attorney who promises you'll win your case could cost you a judgment in your favor (or even an attorney, if yours is sanctioned for violation of your state's rules of professional conduct).
You'll also want to find out how much you've already incurred in legal fees for which you'll be responsible after switching attorneys. Depending upon the provisions of the contingency fee arrangement you likely signed after retaining your current attorney, you may be liable for any expenses already incurred -- usually in the form of a lien on any potential future judgment. If much of the groundwork of your case has already been laid and your attorney isn't violating any rules of professional conduct, it's likely that switching attorneys will be an expensive and unproductive process.