Can I Fire My Foreclosure Attorney?

You can fire your foreclosure lawyer, but you'll have to pay the attorney for work already done.

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If you've hired an attorney to assist you with a foreclosure and no longer want the lawyer's services, you can fire him or her at any time. However, you'll still have to pay the lawyer for services already performed. This will come out of the retainer you paid. Depending on how much you've already paid and how much work was done, you could receive a refund.

Before you actually end your relationship with the lawyer though, you should first let the lawyer know about your concerns. You might be able to work out your issues this way.

If You’re Not Happy, Contact Your Foreclosure Lawyer

Many times you can resolve any problems you have by simply letting your lawyer know that you’re not happy and why. It is usually most effective to schedule a face-to-face meeting with the lawyer. Tell your lawyer in a civil, non-confrontational way about what’s worrying you and give him or her a chance to fix the situation.

Sometimes an open and honest phone conversation about what's bothering you is also effective for resolving these types of communication issues. Email, on the other hand, usually isn’t the best way to have this type of discussion. Emotions and tone are often misinterpreted over e-mail and the situation can escalate with each reply.

However, if the attorney refuses to speak with you or doesn’t address your concerns, then you might need to terminate your relationship.

Some Reasons to Potentially Fire Your Foreclosure Attorney

While the decision to fire your foreclosure attorney is not one that should be taken lightly, sometimes it’s your best option. Below are a few reasons that might justify a decision to fire your lawyer.

  • Your attorney simply won’t communicate with you -- even after you voice your concerns. Part of your attorney’s job is to guide you though the foreclosure process, answer all of your questions about how it works, and let you know about all of your options. If your lawyer still won’t return your calls, reply to your emails, or let you know what’s happening in your foreclosure even after you’ve raised this issue, this might indicate that you should fire the attorney.
  • Your attorney isn’t up to date on foreclosure law. While some areas of the law have not changed much in recent years, this is not true in the area of foreclosure. Many states have recently passed new foreclosure laws, and there are new federal mortgage servicing rules that the attorney should be knowledgeable about. If it’s clear that your attorney hasn’t kept up with all of the recent changes, you may need to fire the attorney.
  • Your attorney misses deadlines. Depending on what you hope to accomplish (whether it is responding to the complaint in a judicial foreclosure or filing your own suit to fight a nonjudicial foreclosure), there are certain deadlines that must be met in a foreclosure case. It’s your lawyer’s responsibility to file the necessary documents before any applicable deadlines pass.

When You Can Fire Your Attorney

All states have rules of professional conduct that attorneys must follow. One of those rules is that the client can discharge (fire) a lawyer at any time, with or without cause, subject to liability for payment for the lawyer's services. This means you can fire your attorney whenever you want, but you’ll need to pay for any work already done.

The Attorney Must Return Unearned Fees

Rules of professional conduct also prohibit a lawyer from keeping unearned fees and charging excessive fees. If you fire your attorney, he or she will have to refund any unearned portion of the fees that you’ve already paid. (For example, if you paid a $1,000 retainer, but the lawyer only did $500 worth of work, you’ll get $500 back.)

How much you’ll get back will depend on:

  • how much work the lawyer completed, and
  • the terms of your retainer agreement (the contract you signed when you hired the attorney). Read the agreement to find out how much you will be charged.

Exercise Caution When First Hiring an Attorney

In the future, be sure to take your time and do your homework when choosing a lawyer to represent you in any matter. It’s always better to hire an appropriate attorney in the first place instead of hiring one and then later having to fire him or her and then get a new lawyer. (To get started, read Five Questions to Ask Before Hiring a Foreclosure Lawyer.)

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