Firing an automobile accident attorney should be a last resort. In this blog, I’ll address the topic of an injured victim’s options when his or her accident attorney fails to return phone calls, or properly communicate the status of the injury claim.
It is not uncommon for my office to receive a call from someone whom had been injured in an automobile accident (or due to other negligence), wanting an appointment to learn if the attorney presently handling the case can be fired and replaced by a new lawyer. By far, the most common reason given is that the attorney or law firm will not return the person’s calls, and the injured client does not know what is happening in the accident case.
Before I go further into the issue of a client’s ability to replace his or her lawyer and obtain a new attorney, it is helpful to understand that every Florida Attorney has a legal and ethical obligation per the Rules of Professional Conduct, found at 4-1.4, which states in part:
A lawyer shall:
- reasonably consult with the client about the means by which the client’s objectives are to be accomplished;
- keep the client reasonably informed about the status of the matter….
As you see, the law is quite clear that a lawyer has a duty to communicate with his or her client and keep him or her informed as to the status of the car accident claim. When I get a call from someone upset with the present attorney, I’ll frequently hear: “I was in an accident in New Port Richey (or Wesley Chapel, etc.) 8 months ago, so I called _____________” (normally an 800 number or “mega firm”) “They sent a legal assistant to my house, and I have never even spoken with the attorney!” Alternatively, if the person has spoken with his attorney, calls are not returned after the law firm is hired.
I will typically meet with someone unhappy with his or her car accident attorney, and convey the following information:
- His or her attorney has a duty to keep a client informed as to the progress of the auto accident claim at all times;
- Advise that the person should try to work things out with his or her lawyer in case there is a misunderstanding. On this point, I advise that he or she should call the attorney and demand an in-office appointment, WITH THE ATTORNEY, for a status on the accident claim; and
- He or she should only consider hiring another a law firm (or my firm) if all confidence in the present lawyer is gone (it is important that a client have complete confidence in his or her legal counsel for obvious reasons). In instances when the injured auto accident victim has not even spoken with an attorney since hiring a firm (which is mind-boggling to me), then obviously that’s a huge red flag that this person is entirely justified in wanting new representation.
The reason I am frequently contacted in this situation is that, after having gone to a large firm that advertises 24/7, the person “feels like a number” mixed in with countless other auto accident clients. After much frustration, the person believes that maybe a giant firm was not such a great idea after all. He or she now likes the idea of a smaller firm, with an attorney that is always assessable and not spreading himself between multiple offices.
As to the question, “Can I fire my attorney?” Yes, a client always has the right to fire his or her attorney. In automobile accident, product liability, or other negligence cases, an attorney is paid based on a contingency fee. The fired attorney may assert a lien against the eventual recovery (based on the time he has put into the case, as opposed to a percentage of the outcome), but when I take over a case any fee that might be owed to the former attorney comes out of my fee. In other words, the client will not have to worry about having two attorney’s fees.
If your automobile accident attorney is not returning your calls, then demand a conference. You, the client, have the right to be informed at all times, which is something that we take very seriously at my office. You should not have to track your attorney down!