Trust is critical in an attorney-client relationship, and never more so than in a personal injury case. If you’ve suffered a serious injury, chances are that you are managing the aftermath of your accident: pain, medical care, limitations on your activity, lost income, and mounting bills. Hiring the right personal injury lawyer can ease that burden in many ways, such as:
- Creating a buffer between you and the aggressive or manipulative insurance company representatives
- Managing the technical and procedural aspects of your case so you can concentrate on taking care of yourself and your family
- Reducing stress by answering questions and explaining exactly what you can expect as your personal injury case moves forward
- Giving you confidence that your case is in good hands and your attorneys are doing everything in their power to secure the best recovery possible for you
Unfortunately, when you feel have made the wrong decision and hired the wrong attorney, the opposite can happen. Your interactions with the law firm managing your personal injury claim can easily become one of your major stressors, and the lack of confidence in the law firm can leave you increasingly anxious and uncertain.
When that happens, it’s important to know that you have the right to change lawyers at any time, even if your personal injury case is already underway.
When Should I Change Personal Injury Lawyers?
The decision as to whether to replace your personal injury lawyer is a personal one and may be based in part on your comfort level. However, there are concrete considerations to weigh when thinking about firing your personal injury lawyer and seeking new counsel. Some key factors include:
- Is your attorney keeping you up to date on the status of your case? There are lulls in activity in most personal injury cases, and you probably won’t have constant contact with your attorney. But, you should have basic information about what’s happening in your case and the timeline for the next steps. If you have trouble obtaining this information from your personal injury lawyer, it could be a red flag.
- Are your questions answered? One of the benefits of working with an experienced personal injury lawyer is the ability to leave the technical legal matters in someone else’s hands. Still, your attorney should be willing to answer your questions about the case and the proceedings and to do so in a way you can easily understand. If your attorney routinely brushes aside your questions or fails to return your calls, you may want to reconsider the fit.
- Do you have a consistent point of contact who is familiar with your case? If you find yourself talking to a different person every time you have contact with the law firm, and that person is never up to speed on your case, it may be a sign that your case isn’t getting consistent, personal attention, either.
- Are things slipping through the cracks? Mistakes happen. If the law firm fails to send you a copy of one pleading or makes a request for documents you’ve already provided, you’ll probably want to give them the benefit of the doubt at first. However, if this type of problem recurs, it may be a sign that the firm is not managing your case effectively. A law firm that repeatedly misplaces documents, fails to follow up on sending information, and otherwise shows signs of disorganization and procrastination may make the same type of mistakes with opposing counsel and the court—and that could be very costly for you.
- Does your attorney and/or regular contact person treat you with respect? You must feel comfortable talking to the attorney or your key contact person at the law firm. Otherwise, you will likely not get the information you need to be confident about your case, and your attorney may not hear important information that you have to share. If picking up the phone to contact your personal injury lawyer makes you cringe, or you delay making contact because those conversations leave you frustrated or feeling stupid, you may need a more appropriate partner in pursuing your claim.
- Is your case moving forward? It’s important to be realistic when considering this issue, as a complex personal injury case does take time. However, if you have reason to believe your case isn’t a high priority for your personal injury lawyer or the attorney doesn’t have the right skills or disposition to push it to the next step, you may want to consider talking with another attorney.
Keep in mind that this list isn’t comprehensive. If you’re having serious doubts about your case, the law firm that’s representing you, or the attorney in charge of your case, you should act on those concerns. Acting doesn’t necessarily mean replacing your attorney—you may want to have a serious conversation with the lawyer first or review documents or get some outside advice. The one thing you should not do, though, is to ignore red flags. The outcome of your personal injury claim can have a lasting impact on the quality of life for your family, and even on your access to appropriate medical care.
What if I Signed a Contract with My Personal Injury Lawyer?
In California, a written contract is required for a contingency fee case. The contract is primarily for the client’s protection but may cause confusion when the client is considering changing personal injury lawyers.
While the contract does give your original attorney some rights, it does not prevent you from changing lawyers.
- You do not pay additional fees when you change lawyers
- You are not required to pay the original lawyer until your case is settled or you win at trial
In most cases, the original attorney will be entitled to compensation for the work he or she has already performed in the case. This worries some clients who are thinking about changing lawyers, but it actually has no effect on you as the client. Here’s how it works:
Imagine that your personal injury case settles for $300,000. You have a 33.3% contingency fee arrangement.
If you complete the case with one attorney, that attorney would receive 33.3% of the $300,000 ($99,990). Now, imagine that you switched attorneys partway through the case. Your original attorney invested 25 hours, and his billing rate is $300/hour. Thus, the first lawyer is entitled to $7,500. In this situation, the new lawyer receives 33.33% – $7,500 ($92,490), the original attorney receives his $7,500 share of the attorney fees. You still get the same client’s share.
When in Doubt, Talk to a Personal Injury Lawyer
Remember you always have the right to fire your Personal Injury Attorney. Your case belongs to you and not your attorney. Switching lawyers is not hard. In fact, it happens all the time. It costs the client nothing and can help the client achieve the best result.
When personal injury victims switch and hire our law firm, we manage all aspects of the transition. We will also contact your former attorney so that you don’t have to. From there, we will take care of all the paperwork, expenses, and everything else that is needed so that you can focus on healing and recovering from your injuries. We will get to work and ensure that you get the compensation you and your family deserve.
If you are thinking of switching attorneys, even if the case is close to settling, don’t hesitate to contact us for a consultation with one of our personal injury attorneys. The call is free and always confidential.