In this article we will explore what you should consider to make an informed decision about whether and when to find a new bankruptcy lawyer.
Written by Attorney Eva Bacevice.
Updated October 20, 2020
Of course. A lawyer is someone you hire to help you with a problem. You are not tied to them and if you feel that they are not helping your situation you can certainly seek help elsewhere. In this article we will explore what you should consider to make an informed decision about whether and when to find a new bankruptcy lawyer.
The attorney-client relationship
The attorney-client relationship is essentially a partnership that you enter into. You are the person to choose whether you want to enter into this partnership and you also decide who you want to partner with. You should be able to expect some very specific assistance from your bankruptcy attorney, such as answering your questions, guidance for filling out your paperwork, representation at your hearings, and effective communication about next steps, if any.
Reasons to replace your bankruptcy attorney
Sometimes, however, you might feel that your bankruptcy lawyer is not holding up their end of your partnership. In these instances you want to evaluate whether the problems you are experiencing are significant enough to end the relationship. You might also consider going forward without an attorney. If you experience any of the below issues you should think seriously about replacing your counsel.
Communication issues (not reachable or returning phone calls)
Communicating effectively with your bankruptcy attorney is essential for successfully completing your case. It is important that you understand the process for the case and that you get your questions answered and feel respected throughout the case. If your attorney is not being responsive and especially if you are unable to get in touch with them or they are not returning phone calls, this can be a red flag.
Insufficient knowledge of bankruptcy
Bankruptcy is a fairly discrete area of law. It is based on one federal code (“The Bankruptcy Code”) and involves a lot of repetition. As such, many attorneys who focus primarily in other areas may feel that they can “dabble” in bankruptcy cases, handling just a few in addition to their other cases. Sometimes this is fine, particularly if your case is straightforward. But if your case is more complicated or hits a roadblock, you want to be confident that your attorney has enough knowledge and expertise to guide you through the process.
You should look for an attorney who is experienced in the bankruptcy area as a primary focus. This is also important because attorneys who practice in bankruptcy develop relationships with the other parties in bankruptcy cases, including the judges, the trustee and their staff as well as opposing counsel. These relationships can be instrumental in keeping your case on track to a successful discharge.
Missing court appearances
If your attorney misses a court appearance and does not have a reasonable explanation for doing so, such as an unavoidable emergency, you should immediately seek new counsel. One of the primary functions for your bankruptcy attorney is to represent you in court. Missing a hearing, absent exigent circumstances, is inexcusable.
Keeping track of deadlines is also a vital function for your bankruptcy lawyer. This is another area where expertise comes into play - it is your lawyer’s responsibility to stay on top of deadlines. There could be a huge impact on your case from a missed deadline, including your case getting dismissed.
There are, however, some real drawbacks to firing your bankruptcy attorney which you want to weigh into your decision. First and foremost, it can delay your case. This is largely dependent on when you make a change in counsel, but if a new attorney is coming in they will need time to get up to speed on your case and fix any mistakes or errors to go forward. This may involve postponing a hearing or otherwise delaying your case.
It may also create additional work for you. You will have to find a new attorney, explain your situation again, fill out whatever forms/paperwork they require and supply them with all of your documents.
It can also impact cost. If you decide to fire your current attorney you may or may not get some of your money back. This is dependent on the rules in your state and how far you are into the process, i.e. how much work has already been completed. Additionally, you will likely need to pay for your new attorney, so that will increase the amount of total fees you are paying for your case.
If you decide that you do want to find a new attorney to take over your case there is an official process to go through in the court for substitution of counsel with your new attorney. This is not something that your current or prior attorney has to agree to, so long as you file with the new attorneys information, the substitution will become court record. Your new attorney will know what to do to substitute into the case.
Even though you can always fire a lawyer you are unhappy with, you should think about the timing and impact it may have on your case before doing so. If the problems are minor, you may decide to ride it out or aim for specific timing so as to lessen delays in your case. If you are experiencing any of the major issues discussed above, you should explore your options, and make a change as soon as possible to best protect your case.