Ideally you and your attorney should work together as a team to arrive at the best possible outcome given your particular circumstances.
When the attorney-client relationship disintegrates, either you or your divorce attorney has the right to fire each other. Legally, a firing or discharge is known as “withdrawing.” Before taking such an action, you should sit down with your divorce attorney and discuss your dissatisfaction or frustration with the case, as you may be able to resolve your differences and continue working together. You should also consider seeking a second opinion from another attorney before you decide to terminate your relationship with your present attorney.
Perhaps your divorce lawyer is giving you sound legal advice and strategies, and the source of your frustration is actually the delays inherent in the legal system or the communication you are receiving from your attorney. Discussing your concerns with your attorney will help clarify if you’re getting “your money’s worth.”
On the other hand, the attorney-client relationship may be damaged beyond repair, and the best possible course of action is for your counsel to withdraw. When this happens, typically your attorney will draft a motion to withdraw, send you a copy of the motion prior to the court date, and present the motion to your assigned judge. Typically, the judge will grant the motion to withdraw and allow you time to find a substitute counsel or file an appearance to represent yourself. In Illinois, no motion by either party can move forward for 21 days after your attorney withdraws. The 21-day period is the time you are given to obtain new counsel.
There are instances in which a judge will not allow your counsel to withdraw, however, such as your case is on the eve of trial; your counsel is the umpteenth attorney on the case, or the judge perceives the withdrawal as a tactic to prolong litigation.
You should also keep in mind that your lawyer may desire to terminate the attorney-client relationship. A lawyer may become disgruntled for lack of payments; however, the new “level playing field” statute in Illinois may assist the lower-income generating spouse in obtaining legal fees. Attorneys also need their clients to follow through on document production, meet with experts, and to act in accordance with the advice given. Non-cooperation with these requests may result in an attorney terminating a relationship with a client.
If you think you can save money by firing your divorce lawyer and representing yourself, you should be aware that the court will hold you to the same standard as an attorney if you decide to represent yourself. Your ignorance of family law could ultimately harm your case.
If you’re dissatisfied with your attorney, the best course of action is to seek a second opinion. You may determine your retained counsel is adequately representing your case but just not communicating with you frequently or clearly enough, or a second opinion may confirm that you need to hire a new divorce lawyer.
Joy M. Feinberg is a partner at Boyle Feinberg Sharma in Illinois.