What Does Substitution of Attorney Mean?

By Mark Barnhill

Although the rules vary by court jurisdiction, a substitution of attorney form is a document filed with the intention of replacing your attorney with a new attorney. This document is usually signed by both attorneys, although only the new attorney need sign it. While a party may choose to change attorneys at any point, the capacities of an attorney in this regard are more constrained.

The Document

The substitution of attorney form is typically a single page that includes blank spaces for such information as the names of the plaintiff and defendant, the jurisdiction, the case number, the name of the party seeking the substitution, the name and state bar number of the new attorney, the signatures of both attorneys, the signature of the party for whom counsel is being substituted, and the signature of the judge who approves and orders the substitution. There may also be sections including the contact details of each attorney, including telephone numbers, the name of the firm each attorney works for as well the addresses of those firms.

Parties Appearing Pro Se

A substitution of attorney may be required if a party has decided to appear pro se (representing herself in court). It also be required if an attorney or partnership became a professional corporation or limited liability entity or dissolved from such a status and changed names in the process.

Attorney Constraints

While the client may dismiss his attorney at any time, attorneys are bound by ethical, and sometimes legal, constraints that allow them to withdraw by way of a substitution of attorney form only under certain conditions. These conditions may involve the client pushing for an illegal course of action to be taken, a discovery made by the attorney that her services have been used in pursuit of an illegal end, mistrust or lack of cooperation between the attorney and client, or refusal by the client to render payment to the attorney.

Duties to Client

Before withdrawing as counsel, the attorney should give the client sufficient notice to seek a new attorney, render all relevant papers to the client and possibly obtain a continuance in order to protect the client from the harm an imminent court hearing could potentially cause.

Exceptions

Some jurisdictions do not use substitution of attorney forms. The Northern District of California, for instance, requires that attorneys make such a motion by way of a normal pleading to the presiding judge.

About the Author

Mark Barnhill is a recent graduate of Georgia College and State University. He holds degrees in Public Administration and Political Science and has written hundreds of articles while working as a freelance writer for Demand Media Studios in topics including technology, law and history.