Over the years, people have called our office to say they are not satisfied with their attorney, and they want to know if they can switch. In Alabama, the answer is yes, but there are some things you need to know.
First and foremost, attorneys cannot represent you if you are already represented. Consequently, you have to decide whether or not you really want to terminate your contract with your attorney. If you decide to terminate your contract, you need to send a letter to him telling him you are terminating his services as your attorney. Send the letter via both certified and regular mail and keep a copy. In the letter, let the attorney know that you will compensate him for any out-of-pocket expenses he has once your case has reached a settlement or verdict (this is money out of his pocket for your case, and it is only fair for him to get it back if your case is successful).
Once you have sent your attorney a termination letter, you can then enter into a contract with a new attorney. Keep in mind one thing: your previous attorney can file an attorney’s lien on the case. What is an attorney’s lien? An attorney’s lien is security for your previous attorney. In Alabama, an attorney is entitled to a lien on a case for work performed. How is that lien amount determined? The lien amount is based upon quantum meruit. What does that mean? It means the attorney can put a lien on the case for the time he invested in the case.
An attorney can only charge for time. She is not selling a product. She is selling her time and knowledge. The attorney must set forth her hours and her hourly rate. That, plus expenses, is the amount of the lien. For example, if the attorney has $1,500.00 of expenses in the case, charges an hourly rate of $150.00/hour, and has spent 30 hours on your case, she is entitled to a lien amount of $6,000.00. Your new attorney will know this.
Therefore, you are entitled to hire and fire as many attorneys as you want, but you need to know that they can each file a lien for the work performed. You should also know that most attorneys raise an eyebrow when they learn that you have already had an attorney or two. If you have already terminated the services of two attorneys, the new attorney starts to wonder if they will just be the next in a long line and whether or not you are a “problem client”.
Finally, if you are not happy with your current attorney, there are a couple of things you should do before you decide to terminate his services. First, try to talk to him. Maybe there has just been a miscommunication between the two of you. Maybe that attorney has done a lot of work, but he hasn’t had time to get together with you, and if you force this issue, you may finally see that he has invested a lot of time in working on your case. Second, if you cannot get an appointment to see your attorney, write her a letter (keep a copy). Written documentation gets more action than unreturned telephone calls. If you still receive no response, try to reach the attorney’s secretary. Maybe the attorney is sick. Maybe he is in a long trial. Or, maybe he’s out of town. If your attorney doesn’t respond to a telephone call and a written letter and if you cannot get in touch with someone else in the office, you should probably consider terminating his services.