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Jon Lewis
Jon Lewis
Attorney • (888) 295-7409

What Happens if I Fire my Attorney?

5 comments

Many people post questions on the internet on various sites such as AVVO and LawGuru, and we have an opportunity to answer them. A lot of these questions have been posed to our attorneys previously. Here is one recently posted on LawGuru along with my answer:

If I have hired an attorney to handle my car accident case, it’s been 9 months since the accident, and I am not happy with him, if I fire him now do we still have to pay him?

Your attorney has a lien for the amount of time invested in the case times his/her hourly fee. For example, if the attorney has worked 20 hours on your case and regularly charges $250/hour, he will have a lien for $5,000 plus any expenses he has invested in the case.

Of course, you can dispute his hours when he files with the court. Also, some attorneys don’t file liens. I think it would depend on the potential for recovery in the case. If it’s a $10,000 case, he probably won’t. If it’s a $100,000 case, he probably will.

Also, if you hire a new attorney, your new attorney is likely to work something out with your old attorney so it’s not an issue. I’m not suggesting you fire your attorney. You should write your current attorney and let him know what you are thinking, i.e.: if he doesn’t get on the ball and keep you posted in writing, you are going to find someone else. He may have a good explanation for why nothing has been resolved in nine months.

5 Comments

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  1. Thomas Bergel says:
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    It certainly is important to thoroughly investigate your options BEFORE you hire an attorney. If an attorney has been sitting on a case for 9 months without any movement on the case, they should not be compensated at all. People who have been injured by the negligence of others deserve to be made whole in as timely a manner as possible and not injured further by the incompetence of an attorney. Allowing lawyers to use expensive advertising to promote themselves should be abolished. They look greasy and unprofessional. I would never use an attorney that advertises. Its one reason why some attorneys charge such outrageous amounts. It’s also a contributor to the low opinion some hold of lawyers in general. If an attorney needs to advertise to attract clients they are probably not the best choice to make and may be among the worst of performers.

  2. Jon Lewis says:
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    Thank you for your comments Mr. Bergel. I have to respectfully disagree with some of your comments. Sometimes there are valid and legitimate reasons for delays. If the person is seriously injured, it takes a while for recovery, and the attorney doesn’t want to settle the case before knowing the full extent of the client’s injuries.

    In addition, with the HIPAA laws the way they are, obtaining medical records and bills take more time. Also, if Medicare is involved, the case is almost certain to be delayed.

    I do agree that you don’t want an incompetent attorney to further “injure” the client through delays. However, attorneys do have other clients and many deadlines with only so much time in the day. Moreover, many of us have families. I have three children whom I cannot ignore for work – nor will I.

    As far as advertising and costs, I’m conflicted. I have been practicing law for 19 years, and we just began a small advertising campaign last month. There are so many attorneys nowadays. We have many attorneys who recommend us: see my linkedin and avvo profiles, and we have been voted as top attorneys in Birmingham Magazine, BMetro and Superlawyers, but many people still hire TV attorneys.

    Alex Shunnarah, Goldberg, and Norris advertise like crazy in the Birmingham market, and it works even though you will rarely ever see them in the courtroom. We have tried jury trials, but these others treat clients like inventory. The issue is not whether they advertise. The issue is how they treat their clients.

    Then, you have the attorneys who don’t advertise but chase cases unethically. How? They pay people to bring them cases. Who? “Investigators”, funeral home directors, nurses, state troopers, and whoever else they can find. We rarely ever see a case involving an 18 wheeler anymore because of this.

    As far as attorney costs, many people don’t understand the dynamics of what we do. In order to run a law office, we have overhead and cash flow issues. We have to pay employees, postage, phones, computers, equipment, court reporters, rent, utilities, experts, etc. In addition, we have to front all of the costs of a case: filing fees, depositions, medical records, etc. This creates VERY high overhead, and we don’t get paid unless we recover for our client. Essentially, we work on a commission.

    Our fees have not changed. We have charged 1/3-40% of what we recover for years (in exceptional situations, we have charged 25% and 50%, and in workers compensation cases, we are limited by Alabama law to 15% which is too low). Advertising has not changed this. Most, if not all, personal injury attorneys are in this same range whether they advertise or not.

    What has changed is tort reform. Our clients’ cases are worth less because of changes in laws. For example, the Supreme Court of Alabama abolished the collateral source rule so the damages in a case went from the amounts charged for medical treatment to the amounts the health insurer paid for medical treatment. Additionally, juries are not rendering large verdicts. Consequently, the values of our clients cases are probably half or two-thirds of what they would have been worth 20 years ago.

    The result? There are more attorneys (too many) with cases worth less. The median salary for attorneys is approximately $60,000 which makes you wonder what a law degree is worth. So, attorneys need to acquire more cases just to maintain their same income. The competition for clients is fierce, so many attorneys resort to advertising (of course, what is advertising? Tv, radio, Internet, print, pr, etc.).

    I can tell you, I wouldn’t mind seeing advertising abolished either, but it won’t happen because of free speech. Also, more chasing would occur if advertising were abolished.

    Thanks again for your comments. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this response.

  3. Thomas Bergel says:
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    While I can and do sympathize with you as an individual councilor, I can’t accept the press of other business or family responsibility as an excuse for delay in execution in behalf of a client. A professional has an obligation do their very best and if time is a constraint they should refer the potential client elsewhere. I do realize there may be legitimate reasons for delay but if this is properly explained to the client, they should not and probably would not fault the attorney.

    As a professional myself (now retired) I can appreciate the numerous and various costs of providing services and I have no objection at all to whatever fees are charged to a willing and informed client. I do bemoan the undeniable fact that attorney fees are so high that the average person cannot afford them and they often are denied justice for that reason. Personal injury lawyers that charge an exorbitant percentage should be censured. If the median income is $60,000 that translates to some individuals earning next to nothing and others earning perhaps a million dollars or even more.

    As for advertising, it has absolutely nothing to do with free speech. It has everything to do with professional ethics which you so clearly point out is sorely lacking in the lawyer business.

  4. Jon Lewis says:
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    Your first comment is the typical reason attorneys are reprimanded – lack of communication. I was not saying I place other business or family over client interests, but many clients have unreasonable expectations.

    I’ve had clients who call every day. We, as attorneys, have to prioritize. I explain to my clients when they sign with us that I may be in court or deposition and that I have other clients so I may not be able to get back with you immediately. Most clients are understanding.

    You are correct in that professional ethics have fallen a bit, but i do not think you can criticize a whole profession because of a few bad apples. Every profession/industry has them. Some attorneys don’t talk to their clients and leave them to secretaries and paralegals. Is that right? No.

    As far as fees, any client can afford us. They don’t pay us unless we recover for them. What constitutes exorbitant?

  5. Mike Bryant says:
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    Very interesting exchange. We often tell clients it is often going to take a year to figure out their whole damages. Most doctors won’t give you a permanency report earlier, it gets rid of most concerns about unexpected medical occurrences, and if gives them a life cycle to see if they have problems doing something like skiing, softball, or other seasonal activities. So there is down time, when you are treating and waiting to see what happens.