What Does Substitution of Attorney Mean?

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At any time during court proceedings you can substitute your attorney for another one. However, a Notice of Substitution of Attorney form must be filed with the court and served on the substitute attorney and opposing counsel. In the case of a court-appointed attorney, a court order may be required.

If you're not satisfied with the service provided by the attorney representing you in court proceedings, you can hire another attorney. This is a straightforward process, but it must be approved by the court after you file a substitution of attorney form. You can change your attorney at any point, and it should not cause any delays in your case.

Reasons for Substitution of Attorney

You may want to substitute your attorney because you disagree about important parts of the case and how it should be managed, for example, in relation to your testimony, defense or witnesses.

A substitution of attorney form may be required if you have decided to appear pro se (represent yourself in court), although in some states a different form is required in this situation. A substitution of attorney form may 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.

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, a discovery made by the attorney that his 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.

An attorney may require a substitution due to a conflict of interest that makes him unable to continue to act, for example, when another lawyer in his firm is representing a co-defendant in the case.

Substitution of Attorney Form

The substitution of attorney form, which may be called a Notice of Substitution of Attorney, Notice of Substitution of Counsel, Notice of Withdrawal and Substitution, or simply Substitution of Attorney, is typically a single page form. It has blank spaces for information, such as the names of the parties to the case, the case number, the name of the current attorney and the name of the new attorney. There may also be sections to provide the contact details of each attorney.

Substitution of Attorney Process

The document is usually signed by both attorneys, although in some jurisdictions, only the new attorney need sign it. A copy of the notice must be filed with the clerk of court, served on the substitute counsel and opposing counsel (or party if unrepresented). It goes before the assigned judge, who signs the form after she approves and/or orders the substitution.

Before withdrawing as counsel, the existing 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.

In some states, such as Washington, a court-appointed attorney may not be substituted without an order of the court. The client of the withdrawing attorney must be given notice of the motion to withdraw and the date and place of the hearing.

Substitution Within the Firm

Some states may require a different form to be filed when an attorney must withdraw as counsel because he is no longer with the same law firm, and another attorney from the same firm is substituted. For example, in New Jersey, a Notice of Substitution of Attorney Within the Firm, signed by the attorney ceasing to act for the party and the newly appointed attorney from the same firm, must be filed with the clerk of court.

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About the Author

Claire is a qualified lawyer and specialized in family law before becoming a full-time writer. She has written for many digital publications, including The Washington Post, Forbes, Vice and HealthCentral.