Can You Fire Your Lawyer in the Middle of a Trial?

by | Dec 9, 2021

The ability to switch lawyers could depend on how far along the case is already. The judge will have the discretion to keep a lawyer on the case and not allow a new attorney to take over if the case has too far along. 

To fire an attorney is your right, although it can be costly in both time and money and is often the last resort when things just can’t be resolved.

In many cases, when a lawyer is fired shortly after the case has commenced, a judge will replace them with another lawyer from the same firm because it minimizes disruption in both schedule and continuity.

However, you can always ask to be allowed to bring in your own new lawyer if you want to. If the trial has already started, a new lawyer may be able to take over, but there will most likely need to be more of a delay in proceedings while they get up to speed on the case.

It will likely be challenging to fire a lawyer in the middle of a trial if you are being sued for divorce by your spouse and there are no children involved. In type of case, some states require that both parties meet with the new lawyer and sign off on allowing them into the case. This ensures that both parties are protected by having access to good legal representation.

Also, it is tricky if you are suing someone for damages, like in a car accident case, and you’ve already given your deposition, that is, you have already provide a sworn statement under oath. Should this be the case in your state, you may have to go ahead and take your deposition with the new lawyer. Then, immediately file for a request that the case be voluntarily dismissed (note, be careful because there are bright line rules regarding dismissals) based on material change of circumstances, namely, that you have changed lawyers.

Sometimes, it is difficult if the other side is getting ready to file an appeal.  Another exception is if you are on criminal trial and your actions caused some legal limit to expire (statute of limitations).  

Again, if you are going to fire your lawyer, make sure you have another one lined up before moving forward.

What is the process of switching lawyers? 

To change lawyers, simply send what is called a “stop work letter.” It is nothing more than a two-line letter addressed to the previous lawyer stating, “I have changed lawyers. Stop working on my case.” Then, they are required to stop working on your case.

As mentioned in a previous article, if your case is currently filed with the court, your new attorney (or you yourself) will need to file a notice with the court that new counsel is representing you. The new attorney will file a “motion for substitution of counsel,” and the old attorney will file a motion to withdraw.  

An attorney-client relationship is a contract between the client and the lawyer.  It is not a one-way relationship where the client is obligated for life. If there’s no fixed term of representation in the written agreement, the law presumes that there is a term of representation until the client terminates it.

Changing lawyers after your case has been commenced (started) is usually relatively easy. Always consult a professional.