The first, and most important point, before one changes legal counsel, is to carefully consider if that move is actually in your best interest? Is the change being done out of anger, panic, or logic? No attorney can promise an outcome in court. The attorney you currently have knows your case, has been paid, and previously earned your trust. Can your concern be eased by simply sitting down with the attorney and discussing your concern? That may be worth a try before paying another attorney a second retainer to take over your case or proceeding “pro se.” (Latin for “on your own”). Likewise, an appeal is usually considered a separate case, so once a case is completed, you may seek other counsel for an appeal.
If you find that an attorney change is necessary, there are two ways to do it. First, you can personally tell your attorney “You’re Fired.” That option is self-explanatory. Second, you can hire another attorney, and then the newly retained attorney contacts the previous attorney for a “substitution of counsel.” These two procedures are fairly common and won’t be as stressful or offensive to the original attorney as one might expect. Changing counsel does not automatically waive any outstanding attorney fee owed to the original attorney or obligate new counsel to negotiate a return of fee from the original counsel. Most of the time, the new attorney stays out of that discussion.
In the case of appointed counsel, simply hiring an attorney usually ends an appointed attorney’s duty to represent a client. If an indigent criminal court defendant wants to fire their appointed counsel, but can’t afford to hire counsel, the defendant can instruct appointed counsel to file a motion to withdraw or send the court clerk a pro se motion or letter asking for a different attorney and stating why the change in counsel is necessary. The Court is not required to give new counsel for indigents simply because a defendant does not like the appointed attorney. Indigents do not get to pick who a Court appoints as the defendant’s attorney. That being said, courts frequently grant a first request for a different appointed attorney filed by an indigent defendant. Repeated requests for new appointed counsel are less frequently granted.
If you are in Tennessee and have questions about rules regarding changing attorneys, call the Law Office of Gregory D. Smith, 931/647-1299 or visit www.gsmithlawfirm.com. Mr. Smith is listed in Mid-South Super Lawyers and is A-V rated by Martindale-Hubbell. You can read a featured article about Mr. Smith in the November, 2019 ABA Journal,(the national magazine of the American Bar Association), at http://www.abajournal.com/magazine/article/tennessee-attorney-greg-smith .