Q I want to change lawyers. How do I do this? Will it affect my case?
It is the right of every client to change attorneys if he or she desires. If you do not believe that your attorney is the right attorney for you or your case; if you have a breakdown in the attorney client relationship that cannot be resolved; or if you do not have faith in your attorney, for any reason, you should change lawyers. Only you, the client, can discharge your attorney. However, before you do so, you would be well advised to find a new attorney first. If you discharge your lawyer in the middle of a case, and if you cannot quickly or easily fin a new attorney ready, willing and able to jump right into your case, you may be left without legal representation at a critical time which may damage your posiion in your case and possibly make matters worse for you because you would be expected to act as your own attorney and continue to meet all court and legally required deadlines until you retain your new lawyer.
Contingency Fees Are Split Between the Two Attorneys
In a personal injury case, where the attorneys fee is based upon a contingency, your new attorney is the one who will collect the attorney's fee. Your new attorney must share his fee with your former attorney, and that fee split will be based upon factors such as time spent on your case by each attorney, the relative value each attorney brought to the outcome of your case, and the terms of the retainer agreement you signed when you hired each attorney. You should not have to pay two attorneys fees. You only pay one fee and the attorneys must share in that one fee.
When you discharge an attorney, you are entitled, under California law, to all of your case materials, at no charge to you. Your discharged attorney may not charge you for copying your file. He may not withhold your file from you, or make delivery of your file contingent upon any payment, or any other act on your part. If an attorney refuses to turn your file over to you, you should contact the California State Bar and file a complaint.
Changing attorneys is important if you are unable to resolve your differences with your current attorney, but be aware that changing attorneys may have unintended consequences for you and your case. Those consequences could include delaying your case so that your new attorney can get up to speed on your legal problems.