You can fire your lawyer for any reason including, because he or she isn't getting results, doesn't answer phone calls or you simply don't like the color of his or her shirt. As a client, you have an absolute right to fire your attorney at any time and for any reason, and it is usually best to put it in writing.
The attorney's first and most important responsibility is to protect a client's legal interests. Attorneys owe clients a fiduciary duty, the highest duty recognized in the law. This duty requires a lawyer to use his or her best efforts on your behalf, protect your confidences and assets, be honest, avoid conflicting interests and avoid taking advantage of the trust placed in him or her. If your lawyer violates this duty, you should report it to the state bar association. You can do this by letter and, in some states, by telephone.
Terminating the Relationship
Usually, an attorney-client relationship ends when the legal matter is resolved, but either the lawyer or client can call it quits earlier. Although the attorney must comply with state bar standards if he or she decides to stop representing a client, as a client you have few restrictions. You must simply notify the attorney of your decision. If the contract you signed with the attorney states how a termination must be done, you must follow those procedures. Often an attorney-client contract simply requires that a client notify the attorney in writing at the place of business.
The Termination Letter
You don’t need to use any special language in a letter firing your lawyer. Simply state that you are ending the attorney-client relationship as of the date of the letter and where you would like the office to send the file. If you have selected a new attorney, you can mention this in your letter, but you don't need to; once you have fired your old lawyer, your new lawyer can contact the office to obtain your file. If you are involved in a court case, your new attorney will prepare a substitution of attorney form for you to sign that will be filed with the court.
Just like in a divorce, many of the thorniest issues in ending an attorney-client relationship have to do with money. Regardless of who terminates the relationship, you generally owe the attorney for work done up to the time you fire him or her. If you are paying by the hour, the office calculates the time and sends a bill; you can dispute charges that seem unfair. If you have a contingent fee agreement – that is, if your attorney handled the case in exchange for a share of the verdict or settlement – the law firm must wait for fees until you win the case. Your old lawyer and your new counsel work out an equitable split of the fee or ask the court to do so.
Teo Spengler earned a J.D. from U.C. Berkeley's Boalt Hall. As an Assistant Attorney General in Juneau, she practiced before the Alaska Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court before opening a plaintiff's personal injury practice in San Francisco. She holds both an M.A. and an M.F.A in creative writing and enjoys writing legal blogs and articles. Her work has appeared in numerous online publications including USA Today, Legal Zoom, eHow Business, Livestrong, SF Gate, Go Banking Rates, Arizona Central, Houston Chronicle, Navy Federal Credit Union, Pearson, Quicken.com, TurboTax.com, and numerous attorney websites. Spengler splits her time between the French Basque Country and Northern California.