You are the employer, your lawyer is the employee: that is the exact appropriate terminology. You hire his or her expertise. You are entitled to fire a lawyer under any circumstances; however, you will be obliged to them if you fire them in order to obtain your file, as a lawyer has what is called a solicitor’s lien on the file. If the matter is on the trial list and you need the file for trial, you can obtain a court order for the release by approaching a court or perhaps even the Law Society. If you are within 30 days of the lawyer’s last bill, you can also assess the account before an Assessment Officer.
The relationship of client and lawyer is very much like a marriage. It has to be a good fit. If you are not comfortable with the lawyer — if he or she does not respond to your questions in a timely fashion, or do the work in a timely fashion, or show the appropriate level of expertise for the matter for which you are retaining your lawyer — then change lawyers. I would, of course, urge that you first go in and talk to him or her about your concerns. No lawyer wants a new client who has been through a string of other lawyers and appears to be discontent with the entire profession. Set up a meeting, and sit down and discuss the issues. If there is no satisfactory response, or you cannot even get in to see your lawyer because he/she will not or cannot make an appointment for you, or you cannot even get a returned phone call, then change lawyers quickly. Delays in changing lawyers when someone clearly is not a good fit for you only delays the settlement, and/or it makes you look very bad if the matter is already before the court, or it gives to the other side an image of you as indecisive and/or weak.
Judith Holzman is a collaboratively trained family lawyer who has practiced for over 33 years in the Toronto and York Region area. She has participated in amendments to the Family Law Act (provincial) and the Divorce Act (federal) in the area of religious divorce.