It Depends On When You Do It and On What He’s Done.
Most court decisions say that when you fire your lawyer, you owe him for the fair and reasonable cost of his services. It might be different if the firing is for cause or if he has committed malpractice.
What is the “fair and reasonable cost of his services?” Usually, it’s his hourly rate. Unless he has substantially performed on his contract – that has happened if the insurance company has agreed to pay an amount you are willing to accept. Then, it may be for the amount which the contract between you and your lawyer provides.
But we are getting into lawyer talk here. The truth is that when people fire their lawyers, the lawyer’s claim for fees nearly always winds up being negotiated. Because no one – including the lawyer – wants to go to trial over this issue. So when you decide to fire your lawyer, you may not know exactly what it will cost you.
But here are some of my observations as an Ohio lawyer:
• A lot of personal injury lawyers don’t keep time on their files. Which means they have to estimate it.
• It’s an old saying among lawyers that judges don’t like to concern themselves with fights between lawyers and their clients. They see it as the lawyer’s job to resolve these.
• For that matter, the lawyer who takes over your case probably won’t want to get into a prolonged dispute over the amount of your first lawyer’s fee. His time is expensive, and fighting over the fee won’t make anyone rich.
• You would prefer not to have to pay your second lawyer to fight over your first lawyer’s fee.
• Once your case has settled, the first lawyer may be entitled to enforce his fee by asserting a “lien” on the settlement proceeds, especially if his work produced the settlement; and the insurance company may observe that lien by putting the first lawyer’s name on the check.
• In Ohio, the last time I checked, no one was willing to say that the first lawyer could assert a “lien” on the records and documents he holds – which used to be a very effective way for the first lawyer to get the second lawyer to guarantee he would be paid before handing over the files.
• If you fire the first lawyer early enough – meaning before there has been extensive court activity – the amount of his fee is usually small relative to the value of the lawsuit. Because most lawyers don’t spend that much time on a lawsuit until they have to file it with the court.
One friend of mine – when he takes a case from a client who has fired the first lawyer – routinely recommends that he be permitted to offer the first lawyer a third of his fee. It assures the first lawyer’s cooperation. Whether this is a good idea probably depends on what you think of the first lawyer.
But if you can’t trust the lawyer you have, you need another lawyer.
I have been a lawyer over 30 years. Most attorneys know what they are doing, and most do a good job. But that isn’t true of everyone. If you have a personal injury case in Cincinnati, Ohio or if you want to know what your lawsuit is worth, talk with an experienced Cincinnati injury lawyer> about the case. Call me, William Strubbe, at 513-621-4775.
Because all situations are different, and because there may be other facts pertaining to your case that I don’t know about, you should not rely on this answer for legal advice. I am not your attorney, and no lawyer client relationship has been formed. And past performance cannot be used to predict future results.