Changing lawyers

If you want to switch from one attorney to another during the handling of your legal matter, you must first terminate or end the attorney/client relationship with your first lawyer.

Thus, you must first tell your attorney that you no longer want him or her to continue representing you. The best way to do this is by written letter followed by a telephone call confirming your intentions. That way, both you and your attorney will know that you intend to end your attorney/client relationship.

The attorney that you are firing may expect to be paid for his or her legal services until the time of termination. He or she may also expect to be reimbursed for any legal costs which have been advanced on your behalf. Usually, your first attorney will keep your file until you pay for the services already provided as well as any costs which have been advanced to you. However, that attorney is not permitted to keep your personal documents such as deeds, titles, or stock certificates. The attorney can and will keep his or her work product, that is what he or she has done so far on your case until paid. Once your first attorney has been paid, he or she must return your file to you or send it to your new lawyer.

If your first lawyer was hired on a contingency basis, there are some extra things to keep in mind. A contingency case is one on which the attorney has invested time with the expectation of being paid for that time with a percentage of the amount which you may be awarded. In a contingency fee case, your first attorney is entitled to payment for the services that he or she provided to you even though the agreement was that the attorney would be paid later. Thus, you may have to negotiate with your first attorney to decide how that attorney will be paid in the event that you obtain a recovery either by settlement or by judgment. Sometimes, your new attorney may be able to assist you in negotiating with your first attorney on these matters.

It is important for you to realize that most attorneys will not agree to represent you until you have ended your attorney/client relationship with your first attorney and have your file available for review by your new attorney. Only by reviewing your file can your new attorney evaluate the work which has been done on your behalf and determine how much more work remains to be done. In most cases, your new attorney will be able to evaluate the quality of the work which has already been performed on your behalf. Your new attorney will also probably want to know what problems existed between you and your first attorney so that the same problems do not occur again in your new attorney/client relationship.


This information is provided as a public service by the Tennessee Bar Association. It is basic legal information and should not be considered legal advice or as a substitute for legal advice. You should consult an attorney if you have questions concerning a specific situation.