We receive calls frequently from personal injury victims who are seeking to change attorneys for one reason or another. About 99% of the time, the problem involves communication gaps between the personal injury attorney and the client.
Attorneys take personal injury cases based upon a contingency fee basis, which means that they do not get paid for their time until the case is over.
And then only if they win the case or recover money for their client, are they paid. In the meantime, the attorney or the law firm will have spent not only time on a case but also case expenses out of their own pocket.
In Texas, a client may fire their lawyer at any time.
But when an accident victim fires their contingency fee lawyer they may owe the lawyer money. If the lawyer is fired “for cause” the client may not owe contingent fees if they collect through another lawyer or settle on their own. However, the old lawyer may still make a claim under the legal concept of quantum meruit.
If the attorney is fired for any other reason or something found not to be “for cause”, a fee may be due when money changes hands, even if the old lawyer was not responsible for the settlement. Thus when working on a contingent fee basis, a personal injury law firm has some pay protection if they are fired without a compelling reason.
How Defense Attorneys Get Paid
Defense attorneys, on the other hand, are paid by the hour for each hour they spend on the file at a rate set between them and their clients. A 15-minute phone call – no problem that’ll be 100 bucks, send a letter with an update to the client- no problem that’ll be $200 – you get the idea.
Advice We Give to Those Seeking to Fire Their Lawyer
So when a personal injury victim calls our office seeking to change attorneys our advice is always the same: sit down and have a candid discussion with your attorney before you do anything else. The only exception to this advice is if their current attorney committed some act that clearly justified firing and the relationship is irreparable.
The State Bar of Texas indicates that clients may fire their attorney at will. This does not mean that the client will not owe the attorney either under the fee agreement or based upon the work that the attorney did on the file.
If a client has a good reason or “just cause” for firing the attorney, the client would probably owe case expenses advanced by the attorney and still may owe for work done on the file either on an hourly basis or a percentage of the contingency fee.
A Fired Contingent Fee Lawyer Will Likely Retain an Interest
In short, should the attorney “retain an interest” in the case they worked on for the client- by firing a lawyer the client may ultimately end up owing that attorney for work done on the file at the minimum.
Additionally, if the client hires another lawyer the client potentially could be on the hook for two separate legal fees.
Cases Take Longer Than Clients Expect
The biggest problem that we frequently see when personal injury victims call our office seeking to change lawyers is that clients have not been fully informed about how long some personal injury claims may take.
One unintended consequence of “tort reform” is that more and more lawsuits are actually being required for cases that have legal merit.
Tort Reform Made Litigation More Likely
This is because while tort reform limited Texas families’ rights when making a personal injury claim, Texas did not address insurance reform and abusive claims handling practices by insurance companies.
By failing to provide for insurance reform at the same time as tort reform, the Texas legislature ensures that insurance companies are dealing from a position of strength when attempting to dictate to Texas families who have been inadvertently injured through no fault of their own.
Consumers in Texas may want to contact their state representative and tell them they want insurance reform for Texas, which would include a requirement that insurance carriers must spend a set percentage of dollars collected from Texas families on actual Texas claims.
Such reform ensures not only fair claims handling practices but also reduces the insurance premiums for Texas consumers.
Insurance Company Tactics are Outside Your Lawyers Control
Lawyers who handle personal injury cases do not control the tactics of insurance companies and this leads to much frustration for personal injury victims.
Litigation and lawsuits take time and effort and sometimes, reasonable quick settlements are not possible regardless of who is representing the victim.
If You Have Personal Injury Questions Call Us!