Changing Lawyers: What To Do If Your Current Lawyer Isn’t the Right Fit
We receive lots of calls from people who are unhappy with their current lawyer, and are looking to make a change. Sometimes, that means that they really need to make a change. But sometimes, the relationship can be repaired. Read on to help yourself figure out which way you need to go.
- Communication. The number one problem that we see with other lawyers is that they are failing in the communication piece of the attorney-client relationship. When you’ve been charged with a crime, the months and months that it is hanging over your head will be the most stressful time of your life. A big part of your lawyer’s job is to help you manage that stress by keeping you informed – even if all they are doing is telling you that nothing is currently going on. You need to be updated, regularly, about the status of your case. You need your lawyer to call you back promptly when you have questions. A lawyer can be doing all of the right things in the case for you, but if they don’t keep you up to date and informed, it doesn’t feel good, and your relationship with your lawyer can go off the rails.If communication is the issue, it’s probably a good idea to have an honest conversation with your lawyer (assuming they will return your phone call). Tell your lawyer what it is that you need from them. For example, suggest that you schedule a weekly call or office meeting for an update. Propose a solution that might work for both of you.If the communication issue cannot be resolved after you’ve expressed dissatisfaction to your lawyer, then you’ve got to make a decision about what is best for you. If you think your lawyer is doing the right things for you in court, and you can cope with sub-par communication, you might decide the best route is to stick it out with your current lawyer. Or, you might decide that it’s important enough to you that a change is needed. Ultimately, you need to go with your gut, and your comfort level.
- Experience. We also hear from people who are starting to doubt whether their current lawyer has the requisite experience to handle their case. Sometimes, when you’re in a moment of panic after having been charged with a crime, you make a quick decision about which lawyer to use and forget to ask some of the important questions. For example, you don’t ask about the lawyer’s experience in handling criminal cases, or cases like yours in particular. It’s important that an attorney representing you in a criminal case have experience in (1) handling criminal cases and (2) trying cases to a jury. There are a lot of lawyers out there who run a general practice, and handle a wide variety of cases – divorce, custody, estate planning, business, civil – and they will take on a criminal case to put a little money in their pocket. But the reality is that when you do everything, it’s hard to be really good at doing any one thing. You wouldn’t ask your general practice doctor to perform your brain surgery. Particularly in serious criminal cases, you don’t want a general practice lawyer trying to keep you out of prison.So, if you’re in a situation where you’ve realized that your lawyer isn’t a specialist, it’s important to really examine whether you should make a change. The problem with using a lawyer who doesn’t specialize in handling criminal cases is that they don’t know what they don’t know. It’s difficult to fix that situation with a discussion.
- Lawyer Doesn’t Believe in You. It is critical, if you’re going to have success in defending your criminal case, that your lawyer understand who you are and how to tell your story. Whether you are guilty of the crime for which you are accused, and need to try to mitigate the damage, or are falsely accused of a crime and need to prove your innocence, your lawyer needs to develop a relationship with you in order to learn how to tell your story to a prosecutor, a judge, or a jury. That takes time. It takes compassion. It takes empathy.If your lawyer doesn’t seem to be willing to give you any of those things, it’s a problem for you and a problem for defending your case. However, this may be a problem that is worth trying to fix by communicating your concerns to your current attorney. Have a frank discussion about your feelings, and communicate to your lawyer what you need from them. If their response doesn’t satisfy you, then it may be time to look elsewhere.
If you are looking to make a change in your attorney, one thing to keep in mind is that timing is critical. If you’re going to make a change, it is better to make a change early in the process. The earlier in the process, the better. It’s more difficult for a new lawyer to come in and try to clean up a mess made by the first lawyer. It’s more difficult for a new lawyer to come into the case when trial is quickly approaching.
Ideally, if you have concerns about your current lawyer, you’ll be able to repair the relationship through some honest communication. If that’s not possible, however, it’s important that you make a change so that you are completely comfortable with the attorney who is defending you.