In Maryland and in most jurisdictions, you can fire your personal injury lawyer at any time under a contingency fee agreement. How do you fire your lawyer? The best way is to simply write a letter advising that the lawyer’s services are terminated.
So you can. But should you fire your lawyer? I think there are two primary reasons in personal injury accident cases why clients fire their attorneys: (1) there is little or no communication, and (2) the process is taking too long and the client blames the attorney.
In most cases, you can fire your lawyer and pick a new one without any change in your attorneys’ fees or costs.
With respect to the problem of communication, it is absolutely true that personal injury lawyers – particularly in accident cases – should communicate more frequently with their clients. If you think the problem is unsolvable, you should fire your lawyer. But I think it is wise to first set up a meeting to underscore your concerns.
The process to resolve a personal injury case is time-consuming for two reasons: (1) the process is slow, and (2) the lawyer and the law firm handling your case are not pushing your case forward with diligence. The latter is a great reason to terminate your lawyer but the former is also a reality in many cases. Our clients also get frustrated sometimes when the case does not move more quickly.
The best thing is to dig down and figure out which is the reason your case is not progressing as fast as you would like. This circles us back to the key to the critical component of the attorney-client relationship: communication. If you have a concern, set up a meeting with your lawyer and address all of the concerns that you have.
There are a lot of bad reasons to fire your lawyer. But lack of trust is a very good reason to find a new attorney.
Are you still obligated to pay after you fire the lawyer? Usually, under Maryland law, a recovery for attorneys’ fees on a contingent fee agreement may be made in quantum meruit. Where representation is terminated by a client without cause (the word “cause” has its own definition in Maryland law) or by the attorney with justification, the attorney is entitled to be compensated for the reasonable value of the legal services rendered prior to termination.
Does this mean if you fire your lawyer you are stuck paying for two lawyers? We have never seen such a case in our combined 150 years of experience. Typically, the answer is no for clients under a contingency fee.
We have never seen it done any other way. So, again this is generally and you want to square this away with your new lawyer, it does not cost the client any additional attorneys’ fees to switch lawyers. To avoid ambiguities and questions of the details, the best thing to do is to have your new lawyer work out a deal with the fired attorney from the beginning.
Our personal injury lawyers frequently get calls from clients unhappy with their current lawyer. Under the right circumstances, we are willing to take over for another lawyer that is terminated by the client. But our lawyers always counsel the client to make sure they have fully exhausted all efforts to make it work out with their current lawyer. In most circumstances, this includes a meaningful conversation with the lead lawyer on your case to discuss all of the concerns that you may have.