If you’ve been involved in a car accident that wasn’t your fault, you probably enlisted the service of a personal injury or car accident law firm to help you pursue a claim for damages against the other party.
many large cities, there may be dozens of personal injury attorneys to choose from, which can make it difficult to discern the good car accident lawyers from the bad ones.
Sometimes, you may not realize you ended up with a dud attorney until after you’ve filed your case and are waiting to hear updates about its progress … and keep waiting. If you’re not getting any progress updates, that’s a good clue that you may have a bad lawyer.
If you’re reading this page, you may wonder if it’s too late to find a better lawyer or whether the law allows you to switch lawyers in a personal injury suit. Usually, you can fire your deadbeat lawyer and hire a new one, but there may be some issues with the court, depending on how far along your case has progressed.
Here’s what you need to know about changing your car accident lawyer in a personal injury case.
Most of the Time, You Can Switch Personal Injury Lawyers
You have the right to choose your legal representation in civil cases, which is what a personal injury suit is. Unlike criminal cases, you are not assigned an attorney by the state. If you change your mind, you can hire a different law firm, but your state may have some limitations.
For example, if there is already an offer on the table from the at-fault party or their insurance company, it may be a lot more difficult to fire your car accident or wrongful death attorney.
If the other party hasn’t made a counter-offer to your lawyer’s demand letter or your case hasn’t reached the negotiation point yet, you should be able to fire your current lawyer. If you hired them on a contingency basis, meaning they don’t get paid unless they secure a settlement for you, then you shouldn’t get a bill.
Once you fire your lawyer, you are entitled to your complete legal file for the case. Remember that if you hire a new lawyer, they may have to pay off any attorney’s liens that the original lawyer took out on your case.
But this lien won’t come directly out of your pocket. It is usually deducted from the attorney’s fees assessed from your settlement.
For example, suppose that you hired Attorney Jones and signed a contract with a 30% lawyer’s fee but realized a few months later that you aren’t getting any communication or updates from him.
You fire Lawyer Jones and hire Lawyer Smith. She settles your case for $120,000 and charges you a 30% lawyer fee, as well.
Her fee on the case will be $40,000. But Lawyer Jones files a lien on Smith’s fees, claiming that he performed $4,000 worth of work on your case before being fired. Ms. Smith will pay the $4,000 lien from her fees, netting $36,000, while your client’s share of the settlement will remain unchanged at $80,000.
How to Determine If You Should Change Car Accident Lawyers
Many personal injury attorneys offer free consultations before taking your case, allowing you to interview them and learn more about their communication style and what kind of strategies they will employ to pursue a maximum settlement for you.
Lawyers also interview you, deciding how strong the facts of your case are and whether they think they can win.
You’ll work closely with your lawyer for several months, so finding someone whose communication style works for you is essential.
You don’t have to be best buddies with your lawyer, but you should feel that you can trust them and feel comfortable being open and honest with them, even if you think that you may “look bad” if you share in some fault for the accident.
Not liking your lawyer may not be a good reason to fire them and seek other counsel, but several other factors are. If you’re contemplating changing personal injury attorneys, ask yourself:
- Did my lawyer explain the strategy for my case so I understand what is going on?
- Did my lawyer fail to explain what facts may be discovered about my case?
- Did my attorney fail to explain the value of my case?
- Does my lawyer (or the firm) respond to my calls or emails within 48 hours?
- Am I working with a “case manager” instead of a lawyer or a paralegal?
Is your answer to any of these questions yes, then insist on a face-to-face meeting with your lawyer to fix these issues. If you don’t get a satisfactory resolution after the meeting, then it may be time to fire them and hire a lawyer that communicates better.
Were You Referred to a Chiropractor by Your Lawyer, Even Though You Have Your Own Health Insurance Policy?
Chiropractic care after a car accident is quite common for many car accident injuries. If your lawyer refers you to a chiropractor or another specialty physician, this is a huge red flag. In fact, it could be the “kiss of death” for your case.
Some shady lawyers and physicians have an arrangement where the doctor inflates the cost of treatment, thereby increasing your settlement amount.
Since many personal injury lawyers are paid a percentage of your settlement fee — you can see where this would lead. If the other party or judge discovers this, your entire case could be in jeopardy.
But firing your lawyer can be intimidating, and many people aren’t sure how to do it. Furthermore, some especially bad lawyers may imply that they are the only person who can win a case for you or that you’ll have legal trouble if you try to hire a different attorney.
Remember, though, that you have the right to select your own counsel and stand up for your rights.
How to Fire Your Car Accident Lawyer Early On
Personal injury lawyers are entitled by law to be paid for their work on your case unless there is an offer from the other party on the table. However, in the first month or so, there probably isn’t an offer or counteroffer unless the defendant was egregiously in the wrong and their lawyers are anxious to end the case as fast as possible.
Therefore, the amount of work your first lawyer does at the very beginning of the case is likely minimal. If you fire your lawyer at this point, you don’t owe them anything, and they can recoup their expenses from the attorney’s fees assessed on the final settlement. At this point, it costs you nothing to fire your first lawyer and hire a new one.
Firing Your Car Accident Lawyer If You Have a Low Offer from the Other Party
Nearly all personal injury lawyers have a clause in their contract stating that once the other party’s insurance company makes a settlement offer, they are entitled to their attorney fee.
You cannot fire your lawyer at this point because instead of placing a lien for payment on the attorney fees of your new lawyer, they will instead place a lien on the other party’s insurance company, thereby getting their portion of the settlement. At this point, it’s really hard to get a replacement lawyer to represent you.
The Right Process to Fire Your Personal Injury Lawyer
Firing your car accident lawyer is a business decision, and you have the right to stand up for your interests. You can simply send your attorney a letter stating something to the effect of:
Dear Lawyer Jones,
I no longer need your legal services. [Insert any reasons you are firing them, such as failure to communicate, concerns about the information you were given about your case, or their insistence that you visit a chiropractor that they recommended]. I have decided to handle my case with another legal firm, [insert firm if you wish, but you don’t have to]. So I will come to pick up my entire file within 14 calendar days. Please contact me via phone or email [your contact information] when my file is ready to be collected.
You may want to send this note via certified letter and then follow up with a phone call once you’ve received notification that it was received.
If you have problems communicating with your lawyer, having proof that the letter was received can give you peace of mind, knowing that it wasn’t “lost in the mail.” Furthermore, you should communicate to the other party that this lawyer is no longer representing you and that communications should go through your new lawyer.
The Substitution of Counsel Process
There is a legal term for changing attorneys in a car accident case called a substitution of counsel. The exact process depends on what point your case is at. Your new lawyer will be able to help ensure that you file the formal notice to the court and other parties involved in the case so they know that your legal representation has changed.
It’s important to follow your local court’s rules about the substitution of counsel so that there aren’t any problems with the legality of their representation in your case.
Changing lawyers is fairly easy if you haven’t formally filed the lawsuit yet but have retained legal services.
For example, in smaller-value or less-serious personal injury cases, like a fender bender or a dog bite, your lawyer may simply send a demand letter to the other party and their insurance company, stating the value of your damages and requesting that the at-fault party pay the stated amount.
If you change your lawyer before filing suit, your new lawyer typically informs all concerned parties that you have new legal representation.
Why You Might Not Be Able to Change Car Accident Lawyers
We noted above that if the other party has sent you an offer, it’s extremely hard to switch lawyers, if not impossible. There are a few other limitations, too.
If switching your lawyer causes delays in the case, then the judge may not let you change attorneys. If you want to change lawyers, you need to do so sooner rather than later.
Time delays are not in the court’s best interests, and if your case has been filed and preliminary motions are being presented, then the court may determine that it will take your new lawyer too long to get up to speed, causing an unnecessary delay.
Another scenario that would preclude a change of attorneys is if your new lawyer has a conflict of interest in the case. The new lawyer may represent one of the other parties in a different capacity, or the lawyer may have a conflict of interest with the presiding judge.
The History Behind Your Right to Switch Personal Injury Lawyers
Most United States case laws (and state case laws) address the right to choose your lawyer with regard to criminal cases, but the precedent of this case law also applies to civil matters, which is where personal injury suits are handled.
The Sixth Amendment, part of the Bill of Rights in the U.S. Constitution, guarantees your right to choose your lawyer. The language states that defendants have the right to assistance from counsel, which U.S. courts have interpreted as the right for you to choose your lawyer.
Why is this important? Because the courts believe that it’s a vital way to ensure everyone’s right to a fair trial is upheld. Fair trials are the cornerstone of our legal system, and cases should be fair.
Choosing the lawyer you wish to represent you is crucial to ensure that you receive fair treatment. Your chosen lawyer works on your behalf and advocates for your interests, giving you control over the direction of your case. Free choice for a lawyer is integral to a fair judicial system.
Changing Lawyers in a Car Accident Case
If you’ve been involved in a car accident and want to pursue legal action against the at-fault party, we can help.
Your lawyer should know how to properly file a case for you, ensuring that it’s done within the statute of limitations for your state. Your lawyer pursues your interests and yours alone. However, when they aren’t representing you as you deserve, or if you aren’t getting good counsel from them, you have the right to change attorneys.
Contact The Joel Bieber Firm today to speak with a member of our legal team for a complimentary consultation.