Can You Change Your Law Firm?

Jane Akre
January 15, 2018
Scales of Justice, WikiCommons

Mesh Medical Device News Desk, March 5,  ~ This story was posted on September 26, 2017 but has been revised as time passes. Since so many people ask, "Can you change law firms if you are unhappy with your representation?" get your retainer agreement out and look at the fine print.

That's a good place to start.

This article is being reposted because so many of you call MND and complain about your law firm and the lackluster settlement dollars being offered to mesh injured plaintiffs.  

When you research whether you can leave your law firm, most references are for attorneys. At least once in a career, a lawyer may want to change firms.

But what if you, the client, are not happy with your representation and want to shop for another law firm to take your case?

Is that allowed?

Federal courthouse, Charleston, WV


In an ideal world, you and your law firm form a “team” based on mutual trust and respect. That means you must provide the law firm with the information it asks for and stay in touch if you move.

You need to be honest. If you already have signed with a law firm, you can'at expect to sign with another. If you've had a bankruptcy, tell the firm.  Also, you must always be reachable.

In turn, the law firm should be able to answer your questions and have someone appointed to be your liaison. This should be a paralegal, or someone familiar with the law.

Check out the American Bar Association’s Model Rules of Professional Conduct here.

Your law firm must provide you with your case number and where your case is filed so you can look it up and verify that it actually has been filed. In some cases, a law firm did NOT file your case. They save the $450 filing fee, but what does that get you?   In line for settlement only?  Please make sure it is filed and ask if it is NOT!

You editor is hearing lately of cases that were never filed with the court, instead, they were prepared for settlement. What sort of message does that send to the defense side?  A case worked for trial indicates resources were put into the merits of the case, one that counsel was prepared to present to a jury. As readers know, those  have resulted in multi-million dollar verdicts, with very few exceptions.


Is your case with a trial lawyer?  Many 800 #’s led the unsuspecting injured plaintiff to a legal referral center that sells or “refers" your case to another firm for a set amount or percentage.

Since one has to be a lawyer to head a legal referral service, you may think you signed up with a law firm (and you did) but they may have had no intention of keeping the case.  Unless you know that, you may waste previous time asking the referral service for an update on your case.

Ask the person at the end of the #800 if they are a legal referral service and if not, who are the trial lawyers who will handle your case.  You should be able to tell if you are getting a truthful alswer.

Some plaintiffs were promised theirs was a "million dollar case" when they signed up. That is a red flag. No one knows the value of a case. Based on that premise, you were charged 40% legal fees.  Is that customary for a settlement phase only - not really.

You might want to structure an agreement that differentiates a percentage for settlement from trial preparation since they are very different skills, such as 33 and one-third % for the first $100,000 and 25% for the second, something like that.  The language in the retainer agreement will prevail so the agreement you sign is a contract and very important.  (This is not legal advice, just consumer advice.)

Mesh News Desk has heard from plaintiffs who only find out years later that the initial referral firm no longer has their case.

This is a formula for disaster. As a client you have not kept up your end of the deal either!

No communication can mean that cases fall by the wayside and the plaintiff forgets about it and goes on with their life. That’s what happened in the recent story Women Who Are Missing, who had their cases dismissed by the court when both sides failed to communicate with each other.

Is changing law firms even allowed?   Remember - Your case belongs to you.

Read the fine print of your firm’s retainer agreement. That may contain language that will guide you if you are not happy with your current representation.

If the law firm wants to end the relationship, the replaced lawyer will file a notice of withdrawal with the court.  They must return your original files and papers and property and refund any unused retainer.

Make sure you do not get into a battle over paying them before your files are turned over to the next firm.

Jury in Huskey trial, Akre

The American Bar Association’s Model Rule 1.16(d) (here) says your firm must surrender papers and property as soon as the representation is terminated.  There may be a similar rule in your state bar association

If the firm is owed fees, it will file a lien on whatever award you eventually receive from either a jury award or a settlement.

Make sure the fees and costs are “reasonable” and not excessive. Ask for an invoice with details on the expenditure in your case.

If you never receive anything in a settlement, do you still owe that law firm something?   It’s in the fine print.

Give careful thought to firing your attorney.  Are you on the eve of trial?  Has the firm communicated with you but your real frustration is with the industry you are suing?

Understand that opting out with your law firm and trying to take a case forward with a new law firm will cost hundreds of millions of dollars, a risk many firms are not willing to take.

What are you expectations and are they realistic? That is the million dollar question when it comes to mesh litigation because the dollars being offered by the mesh industry do not consider a lifetime of pain and medical care, loss of consortium, lost wages, medical care mesh-related but that are not revisions, pain and suffering.

So what is realistic?

As yourself, is this firm acting in a professional manner and do they still have your trust?

A sit down meeting to air your grievances may answer your questions. ###


From Martindale-Hubbell, How to fire your attorney here.

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