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How do you know it’s time to fire your attorney in the midst of your family law case?

It’s not necessarily a complicated process to fire your divorce attorney or to switch lawyers, however, often the issues that accompany switching legal counsel while your legal process is underway can become quite a bit more complicated to address. Don’t take firing your current divorce attorney or family law attorney lightly. You should only come to this decision if you feel confident that your current attorney has or is currently negatively impacting your divorce or family law case and you cannot work through the issues and concerns with quality communication.

 Hiring a new attorney in the midst of your divorce or other family law matter can add significant cost and will almost certainly require additional time investment by you. On the other hand, if you are experiencing issues and concerns that you have become convinced you are unable to work through, it may be time to seek a new attorney. The issues in your divorce or other family law proceeding often involve everything that matters most to you: your family, your children and your financial future. If you have lost confidence in the attorney-client relationship then it either needs to be immediately fixed and revived or you need to cut the losses of that relations and move forward.

How Do I Try to Work Through Issues with My Current Attorney?

Many issues and causes for concern for clients can be worked through with a meeting. If you are struggling with your working relationship with your current attorney, schedule a meeting and sit down to talk and communicate about your issues. Generally, obtaining a set time when your attorney will be available to focus on your needs and attending the meeting with an organized list of bullet points to discuss concerns will help the meeting be productive as possible. Make sure the concerns or issues you raise are fair and accurate. Remember, often clients are going through a difficult, emotional time and it’s easy to “lash out” and express frustration with your lawyer who is advocating for you. If you’re not sure if you’re being reasonable in your frustrations, speak with a couple of trusted friends and family members to ask them, from their unemotional perspective, if your expectations and frustrations are reasonable. Finally, when you attend the meeting with your lawyer, don’t just go to have a “venting session” but rather, be prepared to offer some suggested solutions. For example, if you are frustrated by your lawyer’s lack of communication, ask or suggest that you and your lawyer schedule a weekly fifteen-minute phone conference to allow you to ask questions and to catch up on the status of your case. 

What Are the Situations That May Cause You to Work Towards Hiring New Family Law Legal Counsel?

  • Forgetfulness: it is possible that everyone forgets a small or minor detail every once in a while. If your lawyer gets some small details of your case confused with another case or asks you to remind him or her of some details, give some grace to your lawyer. On the other hand, if it appears that your lawyer is forgetting everything that he or she promises you, fails to appear or notify you about court hearing dates, fails to send you documents or information, even within a couple of days when promised. 
  • Passes the buck: part of being a professional is accepting accountability and responsibility. If a lawyer is constantly blaming his or her problems or failures on other people, including his or her office staff, this represents a failure to accept personal responsibility. At some point, the lawyer is going to need to provide solutions to you and your case and you don’t want the lawyer’s lack of professionalism and accountability to create problems for your case. 
  • Lacks empathy or an understanding of the importance of your case: if your lawyer tries to calm your worries by telling your case is not a big deal or you simply shouldn’t worry, that is a sign that your lawyer views cases as “cookie cutter” duplicate cases rather than individual situations that involve your family, your needs and your future. Responding to your questions and inquiries by saying things such as “this is how we always do it” or “it’s no big deal” those are probably signs that your lawyer does not appreciate the importance of your personal situation.
  • Makes incorrect claims: if your lawyer tells you things that do not seem correct, it is worthwhile for you to research the accuracy of the statements your attorney tells you and if inaccurate, seeking out new legal counsel. If your lawyer gives you advice about taxes that you question, speak with a CPA or other tax professional, if your lawyer gives you advice about your military benefits, seek out an expert in military law to give you additional information. An intelligent lawyer and responsible professional is willing and able to inform you when he or she is not certain of an answer and needs to research, check with another professional or even refer you for consultation to another professional. 
  • A superiority complex or an over-enlarged ego: an attorney who tells you that he or she never makes mistakes or never loses a case is not giving you an honest evaluation of themselves. If an attorney has an over-inflated self-importance, this should cause you concern or at least, pause. One of the best ways to figure out how an attorney acts is to watch and observe how he or she treats office staff, court clerks and the like. 
  • Lack of courtroom experience: if you go to an initial status conference, temporary hearing or other court event and your lawyer seems to struggle to make effective and succinct arguments, seems to frustrate the judge or generally seems disorganized or unprepared, seek out new counsel right away before it is too late. You don’t want that lack of court room ability to continue into future hearings or even the trial in your case. If your attorney does not have strong, capable and confident court room skills, he or she is also more likely to encourage you to settle and resolve your case, even if it is under unfavorable terms out of his or her fear or intimidation in having to take the case to a trial in a court room where his or her lack of court room skills will be on display.

Your attorney does not understand your unique case issues:  some lawyers do not have the experience, knowledge or understanding to prepare parenting plans addressing special needs of children, specific childcare issues, children who excel in a competitive sport or other unique issues. A lawyer who does not understand the importance of these issues is not going to support and advocate for your family in the way you need it. Similarly, if your attorney does not understand your unique or complex assets, you need to have counsel who does. In a recent case the other lawyer valued restricted stock  units at over $100,000 but when the actual value of present day, partially-vested stock units were more accurately considered, they ended up being valued at $10,000. Often small business division, employment compensation packages, deferred compensation, military compensation and benefits, tax issues, and other similar items require a lawyer who intellectually understands these issues and can intelligently advocate your position.

Sometimes an attorney client relationship simply does not work out. When you hire your divorce or other family law attorney, you do so believing that you selected a professional who can meet your goals and objectives. The attorney you hire and work with can make or break your case. Often in issues that have strong legal arguments on either side of the issue, the party who’s lawyer can make better, stronger arguments is the party who will achieve the successful outcome on the issue. Your attorney can and will have a direct outcome on your case. Your attorney’s ability to understand your individual goals and objectives and prepare your case around your individual needs, can make or break your case. 

What Is the Biggest Reason That a Client Chooses to Seek out New Legal Counsel?

 If you do not have a situation based on one of the circumstances outlined above, the # 1 reason that clients report that they need to switch legal counsel is due to a lack of communication. As outlined above, try to work through this issue with your lawyer before switching counsel. Schedule times to communicate. Request or suggest strategies with your lawyer for getting communication back on track.  Not only does communication reduce your stress, it also ensures that your lawyer is working toward your goals and objectives. If your lawyer is simply going through a busy time with several trial or court dates in a row, it may be that scheduling an appointment in a few days will allow you and your lawyer to collaborate on a case plan and get back on the same page. 

 Remember, if your lawyer is not being an effective communicator with you, it is likely that he or she is going to struggle in other key areas of communication, including advocating with the court, speaking with court staff, opposing counsel and opposing parties. 

 If you are struggling with your current attorney client relationship, please call Pingel Family Law for a consultation. In many consultations, we will give you advice and suggestions for working through your situation with your current counsel. On the other hand, if you have decided that the attorney client relationship between you and your lawyer has broken down and is unable to be repaired, call Pingel Family Law at (816) 208-8130 for a consultation to see if we can help you move forward. 


"I have known Attorney Pingel for more than fifteen (15) years. Mandee is a lawyer I consider a respected colleague. She has a reputation for being intelligent, knowledgeable about the law, well-prepared and kind."

- A Lawyer in Liberty, Missouri