Your bankruptcy lawyer should represent you in a competent and effective manner. If you are unhappy with your lawyer or have a misunderstanding, you can often resolve it by telling your attorney about the problem. But if your bankruptcy attorney won't discuss your complaints or questions or isn’t capable of handling your case, you may need to fire your lawyer. (Learn more about what to look for in a bankruptcy attorney.)
What Can You Do If You Are Not Happy With Your Bankruptcy Lawyer?
Most problems between attorneys and their clients involve minor issues or misunderstandings. Lack of communication is the most common complaint clients have about their lawyers.
If you are not happy with the service you are receiving, tell your lawyer about the problem. In many cases, you can resolve the issue by talking about it. But if your attorney won't discuss the problem, refuses to address your issue, or lacks the competence or expertise to handle your bankruptcy case, you may need to consider firing him or her.
Should You Fire Your Bankruptcy Attorney?
Firing your bankruptcy attorney should be a last resort. But in some cases, it's the best thing to do. Here are some common reasons why you might consider firing your attorney.
Your attorney doesn’t communicate with you. Bankruptcy is a process that involves filling out multiple forms and providing extensive financial information to the court. In general, effective communication with your attorney is the key to having a smooth and successful bankruptcy. It’s your attorney’s responsibility to answer your questions and guide you through the entire process. If your attorney doesn’t return your calls, respond to your emails, or inform you about what’s going on in your case, it may be a sign that he or she isn’t the best person to handle your bankruptcy.
Your attorney doesn’t know how to handle your case. Every bankruptcy case is different and may have its own challenges. Even if an attorney can handle a simple Chapter 7 bankruptcy, it doesn’t mean that he or she has the necessary skills or knowledge to successfully navigate a complex Chapter 13 case. If your attorney doesn’t have the expertise required to handle your specific bankruptcy case, you may need to fire him or her.
Your attorney doesn’t show up to your court hearings. When you file for bankruptcy, you will need to attend at least one mandatory hearing called the meeting of creditors (also called the 341 hearing). But if you have a complicated bankruptcy case, you may need to attend additional hearings. If your attorney has trouble making it to your court hearings, it can hurt or delay your case.
Your attorney doesn’t meet court deadlines. To successfully complete your bankruptcy, you must meet several deadlines throughout the process. It’s your attorney’s job to keep you informed about all deadlines and file the necessary documents with the court to avoid causing problems in your case. If your attorney misses a deadline, it might:
- cause unnecessary delays in your bankruptcy
- lead to dismissal of your case, or
- have other negative consequences (such as the court granting a motion or objection filed by the trustee or a creditor).
Will the Attorney Refund Your Fees?
If you fire your attorney, he or she is usually responsible for returning any unearned portion of the fees you’ve already paid. But the amount you get back will depend on how much work the attorney did and the reasons that led you to fire him or her.
In general, you should read the rights and responsibilities outlined in your retainer agreement (the contract you signed with your lawyer) and ask your lawyer to provide an accounting of the work performed. It’s also a good idea to contact your state’s bar association to learn more about your rights.
In most cases, you can negotiate a compromise that’s fair to both you and your attorney. But if your attorney tries to keep fees that he or she isn’t entitled to, you may be able to:
- file a lawsuit in small claims court, or
- report the lawyer to your state bar association.