“SUBSTITUTION OF ATTORNEYS”
SO YOU WANT TO CHANGE YOUR LAWYER
It is a fact of life that Personal Injury lawsuits, as a general rule, require years, rather than months, to reach a conclusion. This is a product of both the nature of a personal injury lawsuit–which requires investigation and “discovery”– and crowded court calendars. This situation also leads to the increased chance that a client will become dissatisfied, in some manner or for some reason, with some aspect of his or her attorney’s performance.
It is the absolute right of any client to dismiss their attorney at any time. It is also the right of that client to choose another attorney and to replace the dismissed attorney with another attorney. In legal parlance this is known as “SUBSTITUTION OF ATTORNEYS.” No grounds need be stated–though any responsible attorney to be “substituted” will want to know the reason he is being asked to replace the original attorney. The ethical attorney would be reluctant to accept the client if the reason being presented was one which the newly approached attorney would not be able to improve upon.
One of the most common reasons that clients give for dissatisfaction with their attorneys , as inexplicable as it is, is that the attorney does not respond to phone calls; that inquiries go unanswered; that the client feels as if they are ignored. Attorneys are often overworked and very busy. However, an attorney owes their client the respect and consideration of answering their inquires as expeditiously as possible, and that should be considered part of the responsibility in every case that is accepted by the attorney.
That is not to say that, rarely, clients can be unreasonable in the frequency of their requests for information. But experience shows that this is the infrequent exception. Unfortunately, the failure of attorneys to respond to their clients is a far more frequent occurrence.
An oft repeated complaint by clients is that they have not heard anything from their attorneys for a long period of time. The conclusion reached is that, therefore, nothing is being done on the case. This is harmful to the attorney client relationship and unfortunately is based on lack of knowledge about the activity involved in a personal injury case. While some participation by a client is necessary, such as depositions, attendance at medical examinations and perhaps supplying needed documentation, it is very limited in nature. The attorney is also involved in investigations, discovery of documentation from the other parties, possible motions, depositions of parties and witnesses and a variety of conferences. For most, if not all of these events, it is not necessary to involve the client. So while the attorney is very busy on the case, the client is unaware of the activity and deems the attorney to be idle. To inform the client of every event taking place, for every case in an attorney’s office, would indeed be excruciatingly time consuming and would probably generate client phone calls that would also consume an attorney’s time that could be far more productively be used elsewhere. It is somewhat of a dilemma.
Additionally, once ALL of the work on a case is completed, and usually not until all the work is completed, the case may be put on the court calendar (“filing the Note of Issue”). Filing the “Note of Issue” places your case in line to have a trial. Courts throughout the State of New York vary in the time it takes for a case to reach trial once the “Note of Issue” is filed. In New York City, it can vary from about eight months to two years, depending on the backlog of the particular court. This creates another problem in client relations: “dead time,” while the client is wondering what is happening to the case. Once a case is placed on the calendar, it would be a good idea for an attorney to so notify the client and make the client aware of the situation.
If, for whatever reason, the client feels compelled to change attorneys, and locates another qualified attorney with whom they believe they will find greater satisfaction (recognizing that the familiarity with the case gained by the first attorney may be sacrificed in the switchover), the client should realize that the fee charged to the client WILL NOT CHANGE. It will be the obligation of the old and new attorneys to arrange, between themselves, exactly how they will share the original fee charged the client by the first attorney. The client will in no way be penalized in terms of the fee for the desire to change attorneys.
Changing attorneys, while the absolute right of the client, should not be undertaken lightly. Suggestion: Speak with your attorney and tell them frankly of your dissatisfaction and see if it would be possible to remove the cause of your dissatisfaction before making this important decision.