Don't Feel Trapped: Understanding the Attorney-Client Relationship
Have you ever felt trapped? In our line of work, we deal with people that feel trapped in a marriage or trapped in a bad situation with their custody arrangement, but that’s not what I’m talking about.
I’m talking about feeling trapped because you hired an attorney that you wish you hadn’t.
It’s important to understand that when you hire an attorney or law firm, whether it’s our firm or another one, you are allowed to change your mind. Here are some things to know.
Most of the time, when you hire an attorney, you sign a Fee Agreement. The Agreement is a contract.
In its most basic elements, the contract says, “Here’s what you’re hiring us to handle, and here’s how much we’re going to charge you, and you agree to pay us for the work that we do.” Most Fee Agreements will say a lot of other things too.
Two of the things that are implicit in the Agreement are this:
1. The attorney is free to withdraw from representation, as long as it’s done correctly; and
2. The client if free to terminate the Agreement and hire another attorney – or represent himself or herself.
Implicit in this is the following: You are always free to seek a Second Opinion. For that matter, you can get a second, third, fourth, or fifth opinion if you like. You can seek as many opinions as you can find.
I have been a lawyer for almost 30 years. And I was a client before I was a lawyer. Meaning, I started hiring attorneys for various matters over 30 years ago. Over the years, I’ve had to hire attorneys for personal injury matters, probate matters, estate planning matters, business matters, and even family law matters.
Most of the attorneys that I have hired have been worth their weight in gold. Some have not. As a client, I have sometimes sought a second opinion, and have on occasion had to end my relationship with one attorney and hire another one. When I did, sometimes things got better, and sometimes they stayed about the same. Sometimes, things got a lot better.
As an attorney, I have had people come to me for second opinions. I have always believed that any ethical attorney put in that position should take a completely unbiased approach. My job in those situations is to give an objective opinion of the situation, without either “bashing” the other attorney or “protecting” him or her.
Often times, I have been able to put someone’s mind at their attorney is handling the case just as I would, and sometimes I have been able to explain various options to them.
Arguably, the most important thing that I have done in those situations is explained to the person that they are not trapped. They have options on how to proceed.
One thing to keep in mind, if you have hired an attorney is this: Whether you hire them for a short time or long time, the full case, or just a part of it, you owe the attorney for the work that he or she has done for you. Changing attorneys is not the way to get out paying an invoice. The invoice with the old attorney still remains, so it is essential to get invoiced often so that you can see where you stand with any attorney that you hire.
Changing attorneys is a big decision, but it is something that all of us when we are clients have as an option. And options are good. They are the thing that keeps us from being trapped.