Can I Replace My Bankruptcy Lawyer?

You can fire and replace your bankruptcy lawyer at any time. Learn when you might want to do so, and how to find a new attorney.

By , Attorney · University of the Pacific McGeorge School of Law

If you're unhappy with the service your bankruptcy attorney provides, you can replace your lawyer at any time. In this article, you'll learn the following:

  • you can hire another lawyer if you already have one
  • when you should fire your bankruptcy attorney, and
  • how to get a new lawyer.

After learning when to fire your bankruptcy attorney and how to hire another lawyer when you already have one, check out our recommendations for other helpful articles we think you might enjoy.

Can You Switch Lawyers?

Yes, a client unhappy with a lawyer's performance can fire a bankruptcy attorney—or any lawyer—and hire another. Whether you choose to switch lawyers will depend on the facts of your case.

Switching Lawyers in Chapter 7 Bankruptcy

You might want to fire a Chapter 7 lawyer who takes too long to file your case or doesn't seem responsive to your needs. However, replacing a Chapter 7 lawyer after filing your case would be unusual because most Chapter 7 cases end in about four months.

Switching Lawyers in Chapter 13 Bankruptcy

Chapter 13 bankruptcy generally takes five years to complete, and many things can happen during that time. If you find yourself embroiled in bankruptcy litigation or motion work, hiring a lawyer more skilled in particular issues might make sense.

Firing your attorney and hiring a new lawyer can be viable when your Chapter 13 plan pays a significant amount to nonpriority unsecured creditors. The bankruptcy court can order the trustee to divert plan funds from those creditors to the lawyer for legal fees.

When You Should Replace Your Bankruptcy Lawyer

Debtors hire bankruptcy lawyers to advise and guide them through the bankruptcy system. Like other professionals, bankruptcy attorneys provide a service in exchange for a fee. If you are unhappy with the service, you can fire your attorney. For instance, you might want to replace a bankruptcy attorney who doesn't do or have the following:

  • return your calls or respond to your emails
  • have the expertise to handle your bankruptcy

Find out what you can expect from your bankruptcy lawyer.

Drawbacks of Replacing Your Bankruptcy Attorney

Typically, replacing your bankruptcy attorney should be a last resort because doing so could cause problems with your case. Switching lawyers during bankruptcy might:

  • cause delays in the bankruptcy process
  • create more work for you (you'll need to explain your circumstances and provide bankruptcy documents to a new lawyer)
  • cause attorneys' fees problems (discussed below), or
  • increase your overall attorneys' fees.

You might try to resolve the issue by talking to your attorney. But in some circumstances, the best thing to do is to fire and replace your lawyer.

How to Hire a New Bankruptcy Attorney

Bankruptcy is a specialized area of the law. Not all attorneys have the skill and expertise to guide you through bankruptcy. Hiring a knowledgeable and competent bankruptcy attorney who can handle your case is essential. When hiring a new bankruptcy attorney, you should make sure the lawyer:

  • regularly handles bankruptcy cases
  • knows the local rules and bankruptcy trustees in your area
  • has the necessary skills and experience to address your specific case
  • charges a reasonable fee, and
  • communicates effectively.

Many resources are available when you're looking for a new attorney. For instance, you can find a competent bankruptcy lawyer through:

  • recommendations from your friends, family, or coworkers
  • referrals from other attorneys in your area
  • your employer's group legal plan
  • county or state bar association lawyer referral services
  • nonprofit organizations such as legal aid societies
  • legal clinics, or
  • Internet directories.

Also, you should know that many bankruptcy lawyers don't have litigation experience. Consider hiring a bankruptcy litigation attorney if your case involves motions or lawsuits.

Dealing With Attorney Fees

When you hired your bankruptcy attorney, you probably paid a fixed fee. If you replace your attorney, what happens to the fees already paid? Unfortunately, there's no easy answer. Whether you're entitled to a refund of part or all fees will typically depend on the following:

  • the provisions of your retainer agreement (the contract between you and your attorney)
  • the state of the bankruptcy case
  • the amount of work performed
  • your state bar association's rules of professional conduct, and
  • whether you filed for Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 bankruptcy.

Also, as a rule of thumb, a lawyer can't keep unearned, excessive, or unreasonable fees. Even so, getting the attorney to issue a refund can be difficult.

Essentially, the original attorney will keep sufficient funds to cover the work performed and refund the remainder. You'll work with the newly hired lawyer to determine the amount needed to complete the case.

Mistakes to Avoid When Changing Lawyers

Hiring a new attorney may cost you more because the new attorney will want compensation for reviewing the case and the prior attorney's completed work. Most bankruptcy lawyers can finish a Chapter 7 case successfully, so it might make sense to stay with current counsel. Ultimately, it should depend on whether you believe your lawyer is representing you competently.

As with any transfer, it's natural to experience a delay. One way to minimize time lost is by personally requesting your file from your original lawyer and delivering it to the newly hired attorney.

Need More Bankruptcy Help?

Did you know Nolo has made the law easy for over fifty years? It's true—and we want to ensure you find what you need. Below you'll find more articles explaining how bankruptcy works. And don't forget that our bankruptcy homepage is the best place to start if you have other questions!

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Helpful Bankruptcy Sites

Department of Justice U.S. Trustee Program

United States Courts Bankruptcy Forms

We wholeheartedly encourage research and learning, but online articles can't address all bankruptcy issues or the facts of your case. The best way to protect your assets in bankruptcy is by hiring a local bankruptcy lawyer.

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