23 Jul 16

Can I change attorneys once the divorce is initiated?

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It is a general rule, in any civil case, that you can change attorneys whenever you wish. All attorney client relationships are built on trust, responsibility, and respect. When the trust is broken, it’s hard for attorney and client to continue working together. In some cases the lawyer may choose to stop representing the client, and in some cases, the client may choose. This article addresses whether a client can change attorneys once a divorce is initiated.

In general, clients can change attorneys mid-case.   If a client doesn’t believe his lawyer is being effective, he’s free to discharge the lawyer and find a new one. As long as the client is ok with it, the replaced lawyer can file a notice of withdrawal, which will absolve him from any further responsibilities. Upon withdrawal,  the replaced lawyer has to return all of the client’s papers, and property – in addition to refunding any unused funds from the retainer. If you owe any fees to the attorney, then the lawyer is entitled to collect those – and may file a lien, if needed, to secure payments of the unpaid funds. The only exception to the rules surrounding changing attorneys is if you do this on the eve of, or during, trial. Unless you have a lawyer, who is immediately prepared to take over – without disrupting anything, and seamlessly able to insert himself into the trial – the judge will use his/her discretion to deny the request in changing lawyers.

When a lawyer is asked to represent a client, already in a case – he’s expected to do a ton of work, in a small period of time. Typically, the lawyer will ask for a significant retainer. In addition, the lawyer will need to spend a large amount of time, educating himself/herself, about the facts surrounding the case.

Even though you can replace your lawyer in a divorce trial, it doesn’t necessarily mean you should. If possible, you should do everything possible to salvage your relationship with the divorce lawyer you have already been working for.

Below are examples of legitimate reasons where you should consider firing the divorce attorney you are working with.

The attorney is unprofessional: If the attorney wastes time, doesn’t appear prepared ever, or is very organized, or is mishandling your billing.

The attorney doesn’t communicate: As the client, you have the right to ask the attorney for info. Your emails, phone calls, and questions should be answered promptly. You shouldn’t feel like your pestering the attorney!

The attorney doesn’t understand your case: Many attorneys only handle a certain type of law. If the lawyer you’re working with simply doesn’t get your case, due to lack of knowledge – it might make sense to change lawyers.

The attorney doesn’t seem dedicated to your case: Does it feel like you’re the one telling your attorney what to do, instead of the other way around? Some clients have mentioned this feeling, as if the attorney doesn’t care. This can be the start of a toxic relationship, and you should be clear. If this continues, you should probably consider hiring a new NYC divorce lawyer.

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