Can I change lawyers in the middle of my personal injury case?

If you did not hire the right lawyer for your injury case, you are fully within your rights to look for new representation. The amount you will receive in your case—or whether you win or lose—depends significantly on the actions and competence of your attorney. That said, you should carefully consider the reasons you are unhappy with your lawyer before making the change to a different one.

Reasons to Consider Changing Lawyers in a Personal Injury Case

No matter which lawyer you choose, he or she will always be bound by the facts in your case and the laws of the state. If your case is taking longer than expected or your initial settlement offer is lower than expected, this is not necessarily your attorney’s fault. However, your attorney’s actions toward you (or lack of them) are a valid reason for you to change lawyers in the middle of your case.

A good attorney will:

  • Make you a priority. Lawyers often work on multiple cases at a time, but that is not a good reason to treat your case as if it is not important. A lawyer who lets phone calls and emails go unreturned or frequently cancels appointments is not invested in your case. If your lawyer forgets your name, the details of your case, or the last action he took to serve you, it may be time to seek other representation.
  • Answer all of your questions. With so much riding on the outcome of their case, few clients are content to let everything happen “behind the scenes.” Your attorney should answer all of your questions to your satisfaction, including explaining why he or she is taking certain actions to resolve the case.
  • Be qualified to handle your case. You may really like the attorney who drafted your will, but that doesn’t mean he is qualified to handle your accident case. If your attorney has not handled your kind of case before, he or she should be willing to refer you to someone with more experience in that area.
  • Respect your decisions. Your attorney is the legal advisor, but you have the final say on what advice you take. Your attorney should listen to all of your requests, including whether or not to accept a settlement.
  • Keep you updated. Some cases may take longer than others, but it is your attorney’s duty to keep you advised of the status of the case. Make it clear that you want regular progress updates in addition to an alert whenever an important change is made, and consider it a red flag if these notices taper off.
  • Act responsibly and ethically. An attorney who engages in unethical behavior, such as encouraging you to lie about the facts of your case or destroy evidence, should be exchanged for another representative immediately.

How to Handle the Change to a New Attorney

It is best to sign another attorney for your case before notifying the former lawyer that you are leaving. This is not only because your new attorney will handle most aspects of the switch for you, but also because he or she can make sure your case is progressing during the transition. It will also save you the headache of being turned down by attorneys who do not want to take cases that another lawyer has been working on.

When you have chosen your new attorney, making the change involves a few steps:

  • Determining the cost of switching. Since most personal injury lawyers are paid from the settlement you receive, your first attorney will not get anything if you switch. Your new attorney should examine your contract with the former attorney to see if there are any fees you will have to pay when you terminate the agreement.
  • Signing a retainer agreement. Just as you did with your former attorney, you will have to sign a form to give your new lawyer permission to represent you.
  • Sending a stop work letter. Your new attorney must send a "stop work" letter to your former attorney, which requests that he stop working on your case and forward the case file to your new attorney.
  • Signing a consent form. Your new attorney will prepare a form for you to sign, called a Consent to Change Attorney, to notify the court and all parties in your case that you have switched attorneys. If your case is already undergoing court proceedings, your attorney will also need to provide notice of withdrawal or substitution of counsel.

If you are unsatisfied with your current attorney, our Tennessee personal injury lawyers can advise you on whether making a switch is the right thing to do for your case. Contact us today for a no-obligation consultation, or request a free copy of our book, The 10 Worst Mistakes You Can Make With Your Tennessee Injury Case.

John Griffith
Nashville Personal Injury Trial Attorney