The law recognizes that people have the right to change their lawyers, even in the middle of a case. Under some circumstances, lawyers are also allowed to drop clients, most notably for nonpayment or breakdown of the attorney-client relationship. Changing lawyers too often, however, can leave a client in the lurch, as shown by a recent case from the Oregon Court of Appeals.
The wife in a divorce case went through five lawyers before the case reached trial. This, in itself, is something of a dubious achievement, as Oregon courts usually try to get divorces resolved within a year of filing. The last three lawyers, in succession, asked to be allowed to withdraw because of breakdown of the attorney-client relationship. The wife then asked for a postponement of the trial so she could find another lawyer. The trial court said no, and the wife appealed both the denial of the postponement and the division of property ordered by the trial court. The Court of Appeals ruled the trial court had done nothing wrong, noting that the wife had caused her own problems, including failing to appear for a deposition and ordering a lawyer not to show up at another deposition.
I was involved in a case once in which the firm I was working at was the client’s third lawyer. After our office asked the court for permission to withdraw (and received it), the client went to at least one more lawyer, and then was told when she tried to drop that lawyer on the eve of trial that the court would not postpone the trial.
In another case, the firm at which I was working was the second lawyer on the case, and the court still did not allow us a postponement when we were hired shortly before trial. That, I think, was a wrong ruling, but we weren’t able to do anything about it.
Many lawyers will also look very closely at a client who changes lawyers too often. Being asked to be the third or fourth lawyer on a case is often a red flag that something is wrong, and because it’s easier to refuse a case than get off it later, a client who changes lawyers too often may not be able to find a replacement. If you are dissatisfied with your lawyer, you are free to change, but think carefully before making that decision.