Ask the County Law Librarian – Can I Fire My Attorney?
Q: I hired an attorney for my divorce, but he hasn’t done anything! Everytime I call his office, he doesn’t answer the phone. I leave messages but he never calls me back, he just keeps asking for more money even though I have already paid him way too much already. How can I get rid of him?
A: I'm sorry to hear that! You have a right to discharge or fire your attorney at any time for any reason or no reason at all, even if you still owe him money for the time spent working on your case. It is a fairly easy process, all you have to do is file a Substitution of Attorney form with the court. When filling out this form, you substitute either your newly hired attorney or yourself, if you plan to represent yourself.
If at the time you let him go, there is outstanding money owed, you will still owe the balance. However, there may be options for disputing the amount owed, especially if you have not been given an accounting of the time and money spent on your case. If you believe that your attorney's bill is too high, you should first talk to your lawyer about the bill, and make your concerns clear. You may find that the case was more complicated and took more time than you realized or your lawyer may agree that a mistake was made on the bill and make corrections. If there is still a dispute, the Sacramento County Bar Association administers an arbitration program to assist clients in resolving fee disputes with their attorneys without going to court. You should contact the Sacramento County Bar Association directly for information on disputing the fee and fee arbitration.
All lawyers who practice in California must live up to ethical standards imposed by the California Supreme Court and the state legislature. You can file a complaint with the State Bar of California if you believe that your lawyer acted improperly, but not just because there is some disagreement between you, or you believe he or she did a poor job. Depending on the seriousness of the offense, a lawyer can be given a warning, put on probation, suspended from practicing law for a period of time, or disbarred – prohibited from practicing law in California. For more helpful information on how to handle a disagreement with your attorney, check out this pamphlet from the State Bar of California.
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