How to Fire My Lawyer – Everything You Should Know

  • Your first step should be to understand the billing.

  • They are entitled to recover fees and expenses for the work they have already done on your case.

  • You should send a termination letter to the lawyer.

  • It is necessary to do this as quickly as possible so your new lawyer can start work without delay.

  • The contract that you signed when engaging the lawyer is the retainer agreement.

  • Consult the retainer agreement: The contract that you signed when engaging the lawyer to work for you is the retainer agreement. The contract may also be called an engagement letter or fee agreement. The agreement would usually contain the terms of your relationship with the lawyer. It may also specify how the relationship may be brought to an end. If such a procedure is specified, follow this in terminating your relationship with the lawyer.

  • Hire a new lawyer: Before you begin to follow the procedure in the agreement or take the next steps here, it makes sense to go secure new representation first. There are several reasons why this would be best. Hiring a new lawyer before terminating the old one ensures that you do not suffer any lapse in representation. Your case will proceed with very little interruption if there’s already a new lawyer waiting to take over as soon as you fire the current one. The new attorney can also be helpful in looking over your retainer agreement and providing assistance with understanding the steps you should take to terminate your relationship with the old attorney.

  • Send a termination letter: If you’re clear on the procedure in the retainer agreement, follow those steps. If there’s no procedure specified, your next step should be to send a termination letter to the attorney. You should send this letter by certified or registered mail so you have proof that the attorney received the letter.

    As a rule, you should do the following in your letter:  

      • Include a short and formal statement informing the attorney that you would no longer be needing their services. You do not have to include a reason. 
      • Request that the attorney stop work on all pending matters 
      • Request that your files be returned to you immediately. The files should include any letters you wrote to the attorney instructing them on your case, documents or exhibits you made available to the attorney and other documents or information personal to you. These files legally belong to you and you are entitled to recover both originals and photocopies. 
      • If you paid a retainer, you should demand a refund of any unearned fees
      • Request an itemized bill of charges outlining all fees and expenses that are outstanding, if any 
  • Finalize arrangement on transfer of files: The attorney should acknowledge the letter and proffer an arrangement for how you will recover your files. It is necessary to do this as quickly as possible so your new attorney can start work without delay.

  • Inform the court: Finally, if your case was already in court, you will need to inform the court about your change of counsel. This may be done on your behalf by the new attorney or in collaboration with the old. 

  • Request copies of the retainer agreement: Your first step should be to understand if the billing was as per your agreement. The Ontario Rules of Professional Conduct for attorneys requires that lawyers clearly explain their fees and necessary expenses to clients before acting on their behalf. These fees should be outlined in the retainer. If things still do not add up after going through the agreement, your next step should be to contact the attorney.

  • Talk to the lawyer about the bill: Contacting the attorney does two things. First, it lets you clarify your understanding of the retainer agreement so you can be certain you did not misunderstand your applicable fees. Second, it lets you give the attorney an opportunity to remedy the problem, as you may have been unintentionally overbilled.

  • Request a refund: If it turns that you were really overbilled and the attorney has not done anything about it, your next step should to formally request a refund. Billing you more than is necessary is not only unprofessional, it may be ground for a civil action against the attorney. 

  • Take administrative action: If the attorney still fails to remedy the situation, you may take administrative action by contacting the Ontario Supreme Court of Justice’s Assessment Office. They will review your bill of charges and advise you on the next steps to take.

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