Can I Change Defense Lawyers After I've Hired One?

Clients who pay for their own representation can fire their lawyers, but practical considerations may get in the way.

By , Attorney · Santa Clara University School of Law


My lawyer doesn't seem to be very interested in my case. I'm worried that he is not representing me as best he could, and I'll be the one paying the penalties for it. Can I change lawyers after I've hired one?


Defendants who hire their own attorneys have the right to discharge them without court approval. Whether the breakdown in the relationship is due to failure to communicate, disagreement about strategy, or something else, a defendant does not need to show good cause or even justify the decision to discharge to the lawyer. In fact, most attorney-client agreements explicitly advise clients that they have the right to discharge their attorneys.

After discharging a lawyer, defendants can hire another or (usually unwisely) represent themselves. Of course, the decision to change lawyers can be costly. In addition to paying the new lawyer, the defendant will have to pay the original lawyer whatever portion of the fee the original lawyer has earned. A defendant's right to change lawyers must be weighed against the prosecutor's right to keep the case moving on schedule.

Assume, for example, that a defendant seeks to change attorneys on the eve of trial. The new attorney is likely to agree to represent the defendant only if the trial is delayed so that the new attorney can prepare. The prosecutor may oppose delay, perhaps because the prosecution witnesses will not be available to testify at a later date. In these circumstances, the judge may deny the defendant's request to delay the trial. This would mean—realistically—that the defendant would have to stay with the original attorney rather than bring in an unprepared new attorney.


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