My attorney is leaving the firm, now what?


GRAND RAPIDS, Mich (WOTV) – Attorneys are more mobile than ever before, often switching firms, changing practice areas or moving out of state. What happens should your attorney decide to move on in the middle of your case? There are ethical standards in place that attorneys must follow regarding this situation.

All attorneys have an ethical obligation to inform you that they are leaving if you have an ongoing case. Either the attorney, or the firm, must contact you to let you know what has occurred. Once you are aware that the attorney that represents you is leaving the firm you, the client, has the choice to stay with the firm you hired and be assigned another attorney, leave with your original attorney or hire someone new. There are some things to take into consideration when making that decision.

First, how far along is your case? If it is fairly new and you have paid an initial retainer that is non-refundable you may want to stay with the firm. If you leave you will lose the retainer and have to pay another one to a new firm. If your case is within weeks of being over it probably is better to stay with the attorney you have, follow them to their new firm and let them finish up. That way a new attorney will not have to become familiar with everything that has already transpired and could possibly hold up your final judgment.

Should you decide to leave the firm you are entitled to take your file with you. You may have to pay copy fees (The original firm will need to keep a copy since they represented you in your case), but your firm will need to see what has transpired in your case from the beginning. Your old firm will likely need a few days to get your file ready for you. If you wish, your file can be picked up or sent directly to your new attorney. At the time your file is given to you or your new firm a final bill will be given to you and you will be expected to pay in full for the services and costs they provided you during their representation.

If you have paid money in advance to be used toward services and costs, that money is returned to you minus any time or costs incurred before your departure. This does not include the initial retainer, which is usually non-refundable, but refers to money held in trust to pay future expenses. That money should be returned after a 30 day billing cycle so that any costs have a chance to come in and be deducted from the total. Examples of this type of cost may be expert witness fees, subpoenaed records or medical records and process service fees.

It is unfortunate when your attorney leaves the firm and you are left to decide who you want to represent you when you are in the midst of a case, but in most cases firms will seamlessly pick up where your attorney left off. Should you decide to stay with your original firm and be assigned a new attorney, an appointment will be made for you (often free of charge) to meet them to discuss your case and get the case up to speed as rapidly as possible.

Nothing herein constitutes a legal opinion.