Warning Signs That an Attorney-Client Relationship Isn’t Working
You are setting the stage for the close of one chapter and the beginning of another.
Divorce is a critical time in your life. You should feel as if your attorney is giving you information to make an educated decision and have faith in his or her ability to do so. This is not the time to have an attorney with whom you are not comfortable, have no confidence, do not like, and/or do not trust.
If your attorney is doing any of these things, then changing attorneys during your divorce might make sense:
- Not returning your phone calls or voice mails within a couple of days, or ever.
- Consistently missing court appearances.
- Not letting you know what is happening in your case.
- Telling you she/he will do something and then not doing it.
- Yelling at you, calling you names, insulting you, or making you cry.
- Refusing to send you a bill so you can see how your money is being spent (or how much you owe).
Raising the Issues With Your Attorney
Firing your lawyer may not be the right step at this point. Rather, it may be worth raising your concerns in a polite, calm, and professional fashion. If you feel more comfortable expressing these thoughts in writing, send the lawyer a letter or an email. If you prefer face-to-face interaction, call for an appointment. Name specific instances and communicate honestly about what is on your mind. Ask your lawyer to explain the situation and be open-minded as to the reasons given.
As the client, it is up to you whether to accept your lawyer’s explanations or not. Considering whether to change attorneys, realize that a new attorney may not necessarily be any more helpful or responsive. For example, if your case is moving slowly through the court system simply because the court is backlogged (as is often the case), a new lawyer may not move the process along any faster than the old one.
Making the Change
If you still think the relationship is unsalvageable, it might be time to switch to a new attorney. However, there are a few issues to keep in mind:
- Carefully review any retainer agreement that you signed regarding payment. The retainer agreement may have important language regarding the process for termination and the return of any unspent retainer monies.
- Notify your attorney in writing that you have decided to terminate his or her services. Be sure to mention how you would like a copy of your case file’s contents (mailed to you, to your new attorney, or provided to you in person, for example).
- Be polite and professional in your communications with your old attorney. Remember, you will still need this person’s prompt cooperation in transferring files, forwarding any straggler correspondence, and perhaps working with your new attorney.
- Find your replacement attorney before you fire your old one. Finding a new lawyer can take time, especially if your matter is complex. You might find yourself in trouble if you have a gap in your representation.
The Disadvantages of Switching Attorneys
Before you decide to change attorneys during your divorce proceedings, you should contemplate the possible negative consequences:
First, consider where you are in the course of your legal representation. Is it the week before a trial, or are you in the heart of a heated negotiation? You may not be able to hire a new lawyer quickly enough to research and handle your matter fully. Your old lawyer is very familiar with the facts and laws applicable to your case, including clerical issues like various documents’ locations.
Second, consider whether you have changed lawyers before on this same legal matter. Judges, in particular, might become annoyed at a client who is repeatedly changing lawyers because this delays the matter and clogs their dockets. It also suggests that you are a difficult client or that your claims are not meritorious. While changing lawyers once during the course of a case might be acceptable if the circumstances require it, be careful about doing it multiple times.
Third, consider whether a new lawyer will be able to create a different outcome. A new attorney may do no better than your old attorney, and the switch could cost you time and money.
Fourth, speaking of money, your new lawyer will have to review everything that has gone on in your case up to that point. If your divorce case has only been pending for a few months, then switching lawyers may not cost you all that much. The same thing is true if your divorce is relatively simple. But if you and your spouse have been locked in a battle for years, or your case is complex, then paying a new divorce attorney to spend days going through your file can be expensive. Remember, too, that your new attorney will probably want a retainer before taking your case. Depending upon your case, that retainer could range from a few thousand dollars to tens of thousands of dollars.
The Decision Is Yours
The decision to switch attorneys can be difficult, and it is important to make sure you are doing it for the right reasons. You need a divorce attorney that has the experience and skill to construct an approach for your unique case.
Peter J. Bronzino, Esq, delivers our clients a custom-tailored solution when we communicate clearly, often, and well.
Our attorneys will ensure that you know what is happening in your case and have the information and legal advice to make educated decisions about how to move forward. You can call us at (732) 812-3102. Our skilled, knowledgeable attorneys are ready to help you.