So you’ve selected an attorney. At first, you’re happy with your choice, but after two years or so, things aren’t going well. The case isn’t moving along, you aren’t satisfied with the attorney’s performance in general, and you want to move on. But how do you break up with an attorney?
The first thing to remember is that you must take this decision very seriously. Don’t just rush into judgment of your lawyer. Litigation is a slow process; that’s just how the system is. It’s a good system, better than people tend to realize, but it is not perfect, and it is slow. So really consider why you’re not happy with how the case is (or isn’t) moving forward. It might be the kind of situation where there really isn’t a better way to proceed.
Secondly, be careful about talking to other lawyers regarding the situation. Lawyers are naturally very bad about second-guessing people, tending to play the role of Monday morning quarterback, and can be more critical than is necessary. Keep this in mind if you’re getting a second opinion about your case. If you’re upset it’s moving slowly, chances are there’s nothing that anybody can do, even other lawyers.
However, sometimes another lawyer really could do a better job, so if you’re ultimately not happy with your lawyer and want to let him or her go, be upfront with your current lawyer. These kinds of situations do happen; attorney-client relationships terminate all the time. It’s really not that big of a deal. Make sure you have another lawyer lined up to take the case, because if you walk away from your current attorney without another lawyer, that’s a huge red flag for any other attorney wanting to take on the case. It’s crucial to be certain you have another lawyer who’s ready to step in.
The most important thing is to be sure of your own intentions for breaking up with your attorney. Ask yourself, “Why am I not happy about where this is going?” If it’s because things are going too slow and you feel like your case isn’t moving along, hold back for a minute and consider that this may simply be the fault of the system, not the lawyer.
If, however, you don’t like the way the case is going because of the facts of the case itself, take a step back and try to look at the situation from the other side. It’s often really hard for clients to see that there are two sides to every story. Sometimes, the attorney does have valid reasons that the client can’t really see. If this is possible, ask yourself, “What’s going on here?” and try to think objectively about the case.
Overall, remember not to make hasty decisions. Litigation is a long, complex process. If you have doubts about your attorney, visit with another lawyer, but take what he or she says with a grain of salt. Try to be fair to your current attorney; try to see your case from all possible angles. And if you do ultimately decide to walk away, make sure you have another lawyer ready to go. With these steps, you can be sure you’re making the wisest decision for the situation.