When you hire a lawyer, you're not exactly entering into an employer-employee relationship. Your lawyer isn't obligated to shortchange his or her other clients in order to take on responsibilities that fall outside of the scope of your case. However, your lawyer is nevertheless obligated to fulfill the task that you've set before him or her. If he or she proves to be unwilling or unable to do so, you have the legal right to sever your relationship. While your lawyer will probably still be employed by his or her law firm, he or she will have no further relationship with you or your case. If you choose to sever your relationship with your attorney before your case reaches a conclusion, you must be prepared to take several important steps within a relatively short period of time.
First, you'll need to initiate the firing process using the proper channels. In order to avoid any potential financial backlash from your decision, you should fire your attorney using a notarized letter that you've sent to him or her via certified mail. This letter must outline the reasons that you've chosen to fire him or her and demand the repayment of any unused portion of your retainer. Since your lawyer is legally obligated to keep your retainer in an escrow account and can't access the money without sending a formal bill to you, he or she will probably repay it without delay.
If your lawyer fails to return these funds within 30 days, you may take several steps to ensure that you aren't cheated. First, you should send another letter that reiterates your decision to take your lawyer off the case and demands prompt repayment of your retainer. In this letter, spell out the consequences of inaction. These can include reporting your former lawyer's practice to the Better Business Bureau and reporting the individual lawyer to your state's bar association. In most cases, your lawyer will not risk such dramatic repercussions. However, it's important to note that your lawyer may still bill you for the work that he or she performed immediately before the firing. Under the terms of your pre-existing agreement, you're obligated to pay this bill in full.
Once you've fired your attorney, you must find a replacement for him or her before your next court date. If you don't find another professional to take your case, it may be dismissed. If this happens, you'll need to refile it. Needless to say, this process can take months or years.