There may come a point where you need to fire your divorce attorney. And I want to talk about how you do that, what the mechanics are and some things to keep in mind. Now before you fire your divorce attorney, that’s what we call a last step in the process. Not the first thing that you need to do. It might be something, if your relationship with your attorney is not going well there are many ways to repair it or to make your comments known and just to give you a heads up I have about seven or eight podcast episodes on how to manage and get the most out of your attorney relationship in the Quick Start Guide and that’s just in the Divorce and Your Money store.
You can get a lot of great information that will save you hundreds if not thousands of dollars just from that section on managing your relationship with your divorce attorney but one of the things I want to cover in this particular episode is the mechanics of, “All right, you’ve had enough. Your attorney’s relationship just isn’t working out.” And what do you do? How do you communicate that? How do you change attorneys? How does that process work and what are the things that you need to keep in mind as you consider changing attorneys?
It can be a challenging thing to do and there are some elements to consider. Now, one thing I’ll just tell you is don’t feel as if you failed because you picked an attorney that did not work out for you. Choosing an attorney is a very very difficult process. There are a lot of complications. It’s not easy. You don’t always know what you’re getting because it’s hard to say how that attorney relationship’s going to go before you get divorced and it’s not always easy to pick the right attorney. And so … And sometimes you have what is a good attorney but isn’t a good attorney for you and your circumstances.
And so when you finally get to that point that your attorney just isn’t up to the task for you and the relationship’s not going well and you’re on that last straw, it maybe time to fire that person. And I want to cover three areas to consider, or three things to think about as you go through the firing process. The first is communicating your concerns, the second is interviewing other attorneys and the third is how to fire the attorney and what the mechanics of that are.
Let’s start with the first point which is, communicating your concerns with an attorney. One of the toughest parts with the attorney is that you have to communicate what is going on and if you are unhappy for a particular reason, you need to communicate the reasons for your unhappiness with the attorney’s job. Sometimes, or most of often, almost the same way it is in a relationship is that the biggest issue of the attorney or with the attorney is in the communication area. And your communication with that person just is not where it needs to be.
And so you might not know what’s going on with your case, your attorney might not reply to your emails in a timely fashion, maybe they don’t seem prepared or know what’s going on in your case and maybe their paralegals are not being responsive. Whatever the concerns maybe you need to start by outlining those and communicating your unhappiness or frustration with the job that the attorney is doing. And maybe they might say, “Oh, sorry, let me work on this thing,” and you give them a month or a few weeks and they improve substantially. Because they might not know that they have a problem with customer service.
Many times lawyers are good at the law but terrible at running a business and they’re not as adept at things like customer service and communication even though it’s very important to you. Other times, and one of my unfortunately favorite sayings is, “A bad attorney doesn’t become better just because you keep paying them.” And so sometimes you’re going to be in a position where just that attorney is not working out and you have to, despite your communication attempts, it’s just not going well. And so I wouldn’t expect because you pay them an extra $5,000 or an extra $10,000 or an extra $50,000 that they’re going to magically become better for you and better for your case.
And so, what to do then is it’s time to move to the next step, which is step number two, is that is interviewing other attorneys. Now, I have lots of episodes, both free and in the Quick Stuart Guide on how to select an attorney, both the first time and the second time around. And ways to minimize the chance you end up with a bad attorney. There’s a lot of different tips in there for you to think about but one of the things I want to cover is that before you fire or consider firing your attorney you need to have somewhere else to go. It’s as simple as that is you need to interview, I suggest at least two, sometimes three other attorneys. Go meet for initial consultations. Meet for even a follow up consultation. Sometimes they’ll be free, sometimes there’s a charge involved, but this is your life and your divorce and so you need to figure out who the best alternative might be for you.
And I would not encourage you to fire your attorney until you know where you’re going to go. Firing an attorney without having a back up option in place is similar to leaving a job without knowing what your next job is to be that you have lined up. If you’re working and you have a job and you’re like, “I’m frustrated with my job. I want to quit,” well, and you quit and you don’t have a backup option it could take you two or six or a year, six months or a year are even multiple years before you find the next job and that wouldn’t have been the smartest decision.
It’s the same with your attorney in that you should figure out who you want to represent you before firing that person. Now, let’s assume that you’ve communicated your concerns, it hasn’t been alleviated, the relationship between you and your attorney is irreparably broken, you have found your next alternative attorney, now how to you actually fire your existing attorney? This is point number three. And how do you do it?
Well, there’s a few ways to do it. And there’s a few things that you should be considering. The first is you can give them a call and just say, “Look, I don’t think the relationship’s working out.” It doesn’t have to be a complicated call. Just say, “Look, this relationship isn’t working out. I’ve hired Jane Smith or John Smith in my town. I think they’re going to be better to represent me going forward. I just want to give you a heads up that I’m going to tell you know, but also I’m going to need my file and unused retainer.” What did I just cover in that?
The first is that you said, there’s three things I covered. First is that you said, “They’re fired.” Or I should say four things. First you said, “They’re fired and the relationship is over. Stop billing me.” The second is that you said, “This is the attorney that I’m going the use.” The third thing is that, “Please send my file, all of the documentation, all of the correspondence, all of the backup documents be it credit card statements or tax returns or whatever else to Attorney Jane Smith or John Smith and here is their contact information.” And the fourth I said very briefly but you would want to illustrate this is in some cases you can get your unused retainer back.
Now I know some attorneys who don’t have, how have nonrefundable retainers but I also know other attorneys who will refund any portion of your retainer that you paid but will, and will transfer that either back to you or will give that money to your next attorney so it’s not like you’re out hundreds or thousands of dollars in unused legal fees.
Now sometimes I’ve also seen attorneys find ways to use up that unused retainer but other times you can get a portion of it back. And so I said you should call and do that but also follow up in writing and say, “Look, I’m withdrawing your use as my council. Here’s the four things I said on the list.” That they’re fired, the new attorney, please send all the documents to the new attorney, and to refund any unused retainer and get a final statement, billing statement from them and what that amount is so you know what it is.
And you know it can seem like a scary process. How do you fire your attorney? What’s going to happen? Are they going to come after you? Most of the time they will not come after you. Look, changing attorneys happens on a regular basis. It’s something that’s common. It’s something that is not unusual or weird or anything like that. And so you shouldn’t worry too much about it in terms of someone being angry or upset with you. It is what it is. You have to be the CEO of your divorce. That’s a phrase you’ll hear me say many times. And as a CEO sometimes you have to fire employees and your lawyer is someone who works for you and if they’re not doing a good enough job, you need to fire them in a professional manner and that be that.
I want you to understand those mechanics. Know that if you need to do it here are some resources to help you and it’s not scary. And you just have to do it and take control. I know some people don’t like the confrontation with their attorney. They won’t go after … There’s nothing like that. Now, there is one point I do want to bring up and that is sometimes you’re going to fire an attorney and you’re going to have an outstanding bill to them. It might be hundreds of dollars, it might be thousands of dollars. You should pay the outstanding bill.
The last thing that you want is your attorney, and I’ve been in this situation where someone needs to fire their attorney, there’s an outstanding bill. One of a few things happens. One is the attorney doesn’t turn over the files until the outstanding bill is paid. That could be something that happens. Or another thing that happens is there’s an outstanding bill paid and the attorney sends that bill to collections. Also something else that you don’t want to have happen.
Things to think about, things to consider when it comes to an outstanding bill. Make sure you pay that. Just clean up the last little bits. You don’t want to be penny wise pound foolish or anger someone inadvertently or have an additional legal proceeding from an outstanding bill. Make sure you pay that. But otherwise, look, it’s very simple. Communicate your concerns, interview other attorneys and then follow with my four step process and just four things to communicate to your previous attorney as you fire them.