Can You Switch Personal Injury Lawyers?

Can you fire your personal injury lawyer in the middle of your claim and hire a new one? The short answer to this question is yes. After all, you are the client. Certain restrictions may apply, however. You might also owe your former lawyer some money.

In a Personal Injury Claim, You Have No ‘Right to Counsel’

The Sixth Amendment of the US Constitution guarantees criminal defendants the right to representation by a lawyer, at least if incarceration is the possible result of a conviction. No such right exists in a civil lawsuit, such as a personal injury claim. 

That means if you drop your current lawyer, you will have to find another lawyer willing to represent you. You must either drop your claim or proceed without a lawyer if you can’t find one. 

Why Might You Want To Switch Lawyers?

There are a multitude of reasons why you might want to fire your current lawyer and hire a new one. You might want to switch, for example, if your lawyer:

  • Has a conflict of interest regarding you or your case (which means it is illegal for them to represent you);
  • Consistently ignores your inquiries;
  • Seems unprepared for meetings, hearings, or trial.
  • Pressures you to settle for an amount you don’t feel is fair.
  • Seems uncommitted to your best interests.
  • Treats you disrespectfully or contemptuously.
  • Appears to be competent, at least in comparison with other lawyers.

You might also decide to switch lawyers if you simply don’t like your current lawyer. After all, it’s difficult to work with someone you don’t like.

The Procedure for Switching Lawyers: Step-by-Step

To switch lawyers in the middle of your case, take the following steps, as a minimum:

  1. Find a new lawyer.
  2. Notify your old lawyer in writing of your intention to switch lawyers.
  3. Work out payment arrangements (see below), 
  4. Have your new lawyer transfer all of your case records to your new lawyer. Your old lawyer might refuse to transfer these files until you pay any amount you owe them.
  5. If you have already filed a lawsuit, complete and fill out a “Substitution of Counsel” form with the court.
  6. You might need to notify your insurance company of your substitution of counsel.

The court might refuse to allow you to switch lawyers if doing so would cause unnecessary delay or otherwise compromise the judicial process. 

Dividing Fees and Paying Case Expenses

Suppose you agreed to pay your current lawyer 35% of whatever amount they manage to win for you, either in court or at the settlement table (a contingency fee arrangement). If your new lawyer asks for the same amount, does that mean you have to pay 70% of your compensation just to switch lawyers? No. You are the client, and your total legal fees should not increase just because you decided to switch lawyers.

There are two common ways of dividing legal fees between your old lawyer and your new lawyer:

  1. Negotiating the contingency fee. If you agreed to a 35% contingency fee, you might let your new and old lawyers negotiate the split with each other. How much your old lawyer gets should depend on how much work they’ve already done on your case. The split might be 20%/15%, for example, but it must not add up to more than 35%.
    Of course, if you lose the case, your legal fees under the contingency fee arrangement your total legal fees should be zero anyway.
  2. Quantum meruit: Quantum meruit is a certain amount of money that you might pay your lawyer based on how much work they did before you switched lawyers. Quantum meruit might apply if your new lawyer wins the case, and your old lawyer asks the judge for fair payment for the work they’ve already done on your case. In this instance, the judge would probably decide the issue. Even so, it’s worth repeating–you shouldn’t pay any more money just because you switched lawyers.

The facts of your case will largely determine which method is utilized.

Reimbursing Your Old Lawyer for Out-of-Pocket Expenses

Typically, your old lawyer would have originally agreed to pay out-of-pocket expenses (expert witness fees, for example). You would reimburse your lawyer out of your winnings, if any. 

If you win your case with a new lawyer, you might need to reimburse your old lawyer for any out-of-pocket expenses they had already incurred before you switched lawyers. 

You’ve probably heard of medical malpractice. That happens when, for example, your doctor’s treatment amounts to incompetence, and that incompetence harms you. You might not realize that there is also a civil claim known as legal malpractice. That happens when your lawyer represents you in a manner that causes you harm.

Your lawyer can be a bad lawyer without doing anything that amounts to legal malpractice. A serious error, however, might justify a legal malpractice lawsuit. A common example is when a lawyer negligently misses the statute of limitations deadline to file your lawsuit.

The ‘Two Cases in One’ Problem

To win a legal malpractice claim, you must prove that your lawyer’s negligence actually harmed you. If you would have lost your case even without your lawyer’s negligence, you lost nothing, or very little, as a consequence of your lawyer’s negligence. 

Consequently, to win a legal malpractice claim, you must prove (i) that your lawyer committed malpractice and (ii) that your lawyer’s negligence caused you to lose the case. In other words, you probably would have won your case but for your lawyer’s negligence. Proving all this amounts to winning two cases in one. 

Schedule an Initial Consultation With a Potential New Lawyer

Personal injury lawyers typically offer initial consultations free of charge. At the consultation, the lawyer will be asking you questions designed to determine (i) whether they think they can win and (ii) whether your claim is likely to be lucrative. Since you’ll be seeking to switch lawyers, they will also probably be interested in why you want to drop your current one. 

If the lawyer agrees to represent you, you can be fairly certain they believe they can win your case. If you’ve already decided to switch lawyers, contact a new personal injury lawyer as soon as you can.

Contact Our Gainesville Personal Injury Law Firm in North Central Florida

If you need legal assistance, contact the Gainesville personal injury lawyers at Allen Law Accident & Injury Lawyers at your nearest location to schedule a free consultation today.

We have three convenient locations in North Central Florida:

Allen Law Accident & Injury Lawyers – Gainesville office
2550 SW 76th St #150
Gainesville, FL 32608
(877) 255-3652

Allen Law Accident & Injury Lawyers – Downtown Gainesville
621 W University Ave
Gainesville, FL 32601
(866) 928-6292

Allen Law Accident & Injury Lawyers – Ocala Office
112 S Pine Ave
Ocala, FL 34471
(352) 351-3258