Can I cancel my contract with my lawyer after signing it?
The short answer is “yes”. After an accident, you may be feeling overwhelmed as you deal with the trauma of your injuries and the stress of handling the financial and legal aftermath. It can be difficult to choose something as important as a lawyer. You may have signed a retainer agreement or a contract with an attorney, believing that he or she was the best choice, only to have communication break down or decide that you are simply not happy with your representation.
Fortunately, California law permits you to terminate your contract for legal representation. Also, you are not prohibited from changing lawyers. California law allows you to terminate the services of one lawyer and immediately upon doing so retain the services of another.
Most if not all capable personal injury lawyers work on a contingency fee basis, which means you will not pay any money up front and your lawyer will not receive a fee until after your case settles. Therefore, if you decide to terminate the services of your lawyer, he or she will be entitled to get paid for the work they performed on your behalf but not until after your case settles.
For example, if you retain an attorney and then later decide you want to terminate that attorney because you want to hire a different lawyer, you then become obligated to pay the amount of attorney fees charged by your new lawyer. Your new lawyer then pays the terminated lawyer for the value of his or her services and this payment is made from your new lawyer’s attorney’s fees, not from your share of the settlement. In other words, you pay one attorney fee, and that attorney fee is divided between your new lawyer and the old lawyer, with the lawyer that performed the majority of the work taking the majority of the attorney fees.
Your new lawyer will have you sign all of the paper work necessary to terminate the contract with your former lawyer. Once you sign that paperwork, the former lawyer and his assistants are prohibited by law from having any further contact with you.
Also, if after you hire an attorney you decide that you no longer want legal representation, you can send a basic letter to your lawyer directing him or her to immediately stop working on your case. Of course, you should ask for your complete files and records, as you are the owner of your file and your lawyer is obligated to give you your file even though you did not pay them yet.
If you terminate your lawyer and do not hire another attorney, your old lawyer will have a right to place a lien on your claim. This means that you will owe your former attorney for the work they performed prior to the termination of your contract. Again, your lawyer will not be entitled to have his lien paid until after your case settles and the amount of his compensation is negotiable.
If you are considering switching lawyers, consult with a seasoned personal injury attorney to discuss your rights and options, including how terminating your present lawyer will impact your case.