My Lawyer Just Fired Me?
Every once in a while I get a call from a potential client who says their lawyer “fired” them.
Well, it’s true in divorce cases in Minnesota a lawyer can withdraw as long as the client is not prejudiced. (note it is a bit of a different standard for Federal civil cases and state criminal cases, both of which require the Judges permission to withdraw from the case).
I can tell you that there really 3 main ways in which most lawyers will “fire” a client and this blog post is about these 3 ways.
1.Lack of Trust Retainer Funds
The biggest and unfortunately, most common, way in which a client can be fired is not paying their bill. It’s true, lawyers charge money for their services and expect payment. I’ve found that in most divorce cases the problem is that the client doesn’t really understand how expensive family law cases can be and they simply don’t budget for it. For a few articles on the cost of a divorce check these out.
The way to deal with this, if you are getting low on funds in the trust account, is to be honest and forthright with your lawyer. Don’t ignore when the law firm account manager calls, don’t ignore the bills or letters. You should let your lawyer know your situation, while not all lawyers will accept a payment plan, many will, but the key is being upfront and transparent in your attorney about the issue of money and get a plan together.
TIP: A client saying “I promise I will pay” does not go very far. Everyone wants to pay the bill, but simply can’t. If you don’t have a plan to pay the bill a vague or distant “promise” to pay will not go very far with any good lawyer. The reason is simple, a good divorce lawyer is in demand and always busy and if the question becomes working on cases who have been paying their bill or working on cases where there is a vague and distant promise to pay, well, it’s an easy question to answer.
2.Difference in Personalities
Another common reason clients are fired by their lawyer is if there is a personality clash between the client and the lawyer, it isn’t fun for anyone. A common tell that I have is that if after every phone call with the client I hang up and I feel exhausted I take it as a good clue that perhaps that client should find a new lawyer
Now, I’m not saying that every divorce lawyer should become fast friends with their client, in fact I always question when I hear a client is friends with the client as it takes out the objective advice portion of a lawyers job, but if you are going to battle (aka a trial) don’t you really want a man or woman that you at the very least get along with? Of course you do.
TIP: Spend some time BEFORE you hire the lawyer and talk to them. Ask them your questions, don’t be afraid to ask about their experience, cases like yours. Often times lawyers get a bad reputation for being arrogant or short with clients or just being a jerk overall, which is precisely why you should find this out BEFORE you hire the man or woman!
The final reason that I see as a fairly common reason lawyers withdraw from cases is that their client has committed a violation of what us lawyers shorthandly refer to as an ethical violation. Many people don’t know that lawyers do, in fact, have a code of conduct that they are required to follow. This is called the Minnesota Rule of Professional Responsibility and one of the common rules that clients seem to expect lawyers to break is Rule 3.3 which prohibits lawyers from “knowingly offering evidence that the lawyers knows to be false.”
What does that mean? what I often say is that I’m not a priest, this means please don’t confess everything to me. If you tell me that you intend to lie at trial that puts me in a very difficult position, I can’t assist you in doing that, but Rule 1.6 requires I can’t reveal information you’ve told me. So, what do I do? Well first I talk to the client and urge them to tell the truth and not engage in this lie, but if the client still won’t listen the only thing I can do is…withdraw.
One thing to keep in mind that it is always and I mean ALWAYS cheaper to prevent a problem than to fix a problem. Even Abraham Lincoln knew this which is why he said “You don’t swap horses midstream” when talking about changing generals during the civil war. If you don’t take time and find the right lawyer at the start of the case you will be paying another lawyer to get up to speed and try and undo any damage to your case that was done (Note: I’m not saying never to change lawyers but before you do, read this).
A final thought, I get a lot of clients who hire me midstream and we usually get good results, but I can tell you that lawyers look a bit suspiciously upon the person who has had one previous lawyer and especially, if they have had two previous lawyers. Be prepared for a bit higher retainer if you do decide to change lawyers.
I hope this article was useful if you have any comments or questions please post them in the comments below and I’ll try my best to answer them.