When Your Lawyer Quits: Substitution of and Cooperation With New Counsel
This post is part of an ongoing series about the obligations lawyers have when terminating (quitting) representation of a client. To start from the original post, click here (the post will open in a new window).
LAWYERS HAVE A DUTY TO SIGN SUBSTITUTION OF COUNSEL FORMS WHEN REQUESTED OR NECESSARY
Whenever a client tells a lawyer that the client wants to replace the lawyer with a different lawyer (also referred to as “substituting” counsel), the lawyer being replaced has several duties. Initially, the lawyer being replaced (or quitting) must:
- promptly comply with the client’s desire to change lawyers
- sign a substitution of attorney form (if necessary or requested) without delay
- transfer any files or other relevant information to the new lawyer
A discharged (fired) lawyer cannot refuse to sign a substitution of counsel form, cannot refuse to hand over files and other relevant information, and cannot refuse to allow the client to hire a different lawyer/change lawyers. Notably, the discharged lawyer also cannot condition any of the foregoing actions on the client’s payment of any outstanding attorney fees. (In other words, the terminated/quitting lawyer can’t say “I will sign/hand over the files/cooperate when you pay me.”) This doesn’t mean the quitting (or terminated) lawyer is not entitled to be paid any fees (s)he earned before the attorney-client relationship ended–merely that payment of those fees is a separate issue from the lawyer’s other legal duties.
LAWYERS HAVE A DUTY TO COOPERATE WITH A CLIENT’S NEW LAWYER
Once a (former) client has hired a new lawyer and the former lawyer has released the client’s files (either to the client or to the new lawyer, as appropriate) the former lawyer normally does not need to (and has no duty to) provide any further services to the client.
However, in certain types of cases and matters (notably, criminal defense), the duty to prevent prejudice to the client may require the former lawyer to cooperate with successor counsel. For example, it may be necessary for the former lawyer to communicate with the new lawyer about the state of the defense (or ongoing litigation), to provide relevant information, to share contact information for witnesses and experts (although normally that information should be in the files provided to the new lawyer), or otherwise cooperate when and as necessary to prevent the client from being harmed by the transition to new counsel.
Lawyers have other ongoing obligations after the end of representation, too.
If you believe a lawyer failed to comply with his or her legal duties after your attorney-client relationship ended (or did not represent you professionally and properly while (s)he was acting as your legal counsel), contact an experienced lawyer immediately for an evaluation of your legal rights.
Disclaimer: THIS ARTICLE IS FOR INFORMATIONAL PURPOSES ONLY, AND DOES NOT CONSTITUTE LEGAL ADVICE OR CREATE AN ATTORNEY-CLIENT RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN THE AUTHOR OR ROSS LAW AND ANY PERSON.
Your legal rights and experiences may vary. Never use an online article (including this one) to evaluate your legal rights or claims. Consult an experienced attorney promptly to obtain a personalized evaluation of your claims, potential damages, and the various legal rights and options available to you.
You may lose or compromise your rights if you delay in consulting legal counsel. Most legal claims (and defenses), as well as legal and court procedures, are complicated and fact-dependent. If you believe you have a claim against someone who injured you, a lawyer who represented you in a previous lawsuit, or any other legal claim, consult an experienced lawyer immediately for an evaluation of your individual rights and claims.