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My Personal Injury Lawyer Quit. Now What?

Hiring a personal injury lawyer is a huge step for most people. They put faith in a legal expert who can help them recover damages for pain and suffering caused by someone else’s negligence. It can be alarming to invest your time and trust in a personal injury attorney, only to have them quit on you before your claim is resolved. Lawyers can and do withdraw from personal injury cases for any number of reasons. Legally, they can do so if they have satisfied the terms of their agreement to represent you. Once you sign a retainer or an agreement, you become a client. Attorneys in New Mexico are bound by rules of professional conduct that dictate how – and when – they can end their services.

Mandatory withdrawal vs. voluntary withdrawal

There are two circumstances under which your attorney can quit before your case has concluded: mandatory and voluntary.

Mandatory withdrawal from your case usually means the attorney you have selected fails to meet several required criteria under New Mexico professional rules of conduct. Here are some of the scenarios under which mandatory withdrawal would be necessary:

  • The attorney fails to demonstrate competency to represent their client in a personal injury claim.
  • The lawyer becomes a witness in the case.
  • The attorney discovers their client is using their legal services to advance criminal activity.
  • The client insists on pursuing a frivolous claim.
  • The attorney has a conflict of interest that compromises rules of professional conduct.
  • The client terminates their agreement with the attorney.

Voluntary withdrawal refers to times when a personal injury attorney can legally cease to provide their services but are not legally compelled to do so. Here are some examples of voluntary withdrawal:

  • The client has failed to pay for the lawyer’s services per the fee agreement.
  • The client is not following the advice of their attorney.
  • The client is involved in fraudulent activity.
  • There is a breakdown in the attorney-client relationship that compromises the case.

Attorney withdrawal process

Whether mandatory or voluntary, personal injury attorneys must follow a strict protocol before walking away from a client. Under both scenarios, an attorney must seek permission from the court to withdraw from the case. Once an attorney agrees to take your case, they are the legal representative of record with the courts. Before they can just walk away, they must notify the court of their intent to withdraw. Courts can deny an attorney’s request to withdraw under certain circumstances, including if the judge thinks the client will be prejudiced by relieving the counsel of their duty.

Even if a judge grants permission for your attorney to withdraw, they have duties they must fulfill as part of the process. One of the most important duties is attorney-client confidentiality privileges. Just because they have left the case does not mean they can divulge any information disclosed to them by their former client in confidence. Attorneys also must return any personal property for their clients, and ensure all relevant files are transferred to the new attorney assigned to the case.

The courts cannot force a client to continue to work with an attorney. If you wish to end your contractual obligation with an attorney, you are free to discharge them of their duties. This does not require court approval. You may still owe fees for services already rendered that must be paid, even if you part ways with your lawyer. Likewise, if you signed a retainer agreement and your attorney did not use all the money to represent you, they must return the unspent funds.

When not to part ways with your personal injury attorney

Most personal injury cases are settled out of court in New Mexico. That does not mean they never reach the courtroom. If settlement negotiations have stalled and your attorney decides to move forward with a court hearing, this is a good example of a bad time to part ways with your legal counsel. Unless you have a replacement at the ready who is up-to-speed on your case, it is far easier to change attorneys before your case ends up before a judge and jury. While switching out attorneys can be done after a trial has started, it is not recommended unless a client feels their attorney has breached the rules of professional conduct. Changing direction during a trial can affect the outcome or cause a delay in your case being heard.

How to fire your lawyer

Attorneys who wish to walk away from a client have a protocol they must follow before they can legally part ways. The same is true for clients who want to fire their lawyers. Whether you feel they are not adequately representing you or there is a personality clash, you have the right to seek new representation. If you are ready to terminate your legal agreement, put your wishes in writing and send them via a certified letter or registered mail. Taking this extra step proves you provided notification of your intent to end the relationship. You are not required to provide details about why you wish to make the change but doing so can help give the attorney some clarity on why they are being replaced. Your termination notice should include an official request for all documents and files related to your case and a deadline for turning those over to you (or your new attorney).

How to find a new personal injury attorney

It can be frustrating to have your attorney quit on you, knowing you must start the process all over again to find new legal representation. If you find yourself looking for a personal injury lawyer who will fight for fair compensation in your case, reach out to Scott Atkinson. With a long history of representing clients in personal injury cases, he goes the extra mile to achieve the resolution his clients need. Call 505-944-1050 or contact us online to schedule your complimentary consultation.

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