California Family Law Attorney
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April 07, 2010
  How do I FIRE my ATTORNEY?
Posted By Thurman Arnold

Q. How do I fire my family law attorney?

You are free to discharge your attorney, and terminate his or her services, for any reason and at any time. Attorneys cannot require that you first pay off your bill, or that you reimburse them for expenses (including any costs associated with copying your file) before they will withdraw. In California this is accomplished with the Courts by both you and your attorney signing a Substitutions of Attorney which is then filed with the clerk of the Court where your case is pending. Simply download this form, fill it out, and take it to your attorney's office for their signature. Usually they will get it filed and send you a "conformed" copy (i.e., one that bears the filing stamp of the court).

If you do not have a pending case, you need simply write your lawyer an email or letter telling him to cease all efforts on your behalf.

She must return your entire file, except her notes, within 10 days of a written request. The California State Bar will discipline lawyers who fail or refuse to comply. She must also give you a final accounting on his bill within that time, and return all unused fees to you. Unless you have a true flat fee arrangement, she cannot keep the balance of your retainer and must turn over to you all unused funds within a reasonable time.

One important bit of advice, however: Be careful how you time firing your lawyer. He or she is "on the hook" insofar as the Court is concerned so long as they remain your attorney of record. There may be reasons why you should wait until after a hearing takes place before signing the Substitution.

In the event you choose not to sign a Substitution of Attorney - where for instance it is the attorney who is firing you - that attorney remains on the hook until an Order for Withdrawal is signed by a Judge, which can only occur after a Notice of Motion is filed by the attorney to be relieved as your counsel. The motion process takes at least 25 days and you are entitled to oppose it. The lawyer must provide a declaration stating that the attorney-client relationship is broken between you, but they are not required to say why (for instance, that you lied to them or were uncooperative). Unfortunately, however, I see many lawyers who sloppily do tell the court something that may hurt your case or the court's perception of you. Frankly, if they do that it may be grounds for a State Bar Complaint.

We offer Second Opinions and frank and discreet, expert advice, by telephone and video-conferencing and webcam!

Thurman W. Arnold III
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January 17, 2010
  I have an attorney but what if I want a SECOND OPINION?
Posted By Thurman Arnold. Certified Family Law Specialist

Q. I am represented by an attorney. However, I don't have a lot of faith in him anymore and now trial is scheduled in four months. Am I being paranoid in wanting a second opinion about my divorce case?

Clara - Redding, CA

A. I understand, Clara. Dissolution proceedings generate great anxiety. The circumstances surrounding the breakup of relationships, division of property and debts, sharing of custody, fears about future economics, and being a stranger to a process that one can only marginally direct or control cause difficulties in evaluating the quality and value of advice that clients receive.

Please don't hesitate to seek a second or even a third opinion about your family law matter.

We all ought to have a healthy skepticism about what professionals tell us, particularly when the subject affects us in an intimate, immediate or lifetime basis. It is not uncommon to become suspicious of one's attorney, or to lose confidence. Indeed, a major tactic which parties use to manipulate each other in high conflict divorces involves promoting distrust of the other's lawyer; a second opinion may become useful in grounding you. Your fears may be well founded, or they may be caused by a lack of understanding (most often a result of poor communication skills on the part of an attorney, or a lack of apparent empathy for your plight). In either case with these warning signs evident and some time left to change horses if that is indeed what you conclude is necessary, failing to investigate this further right now is a recipe for disaster.

Lawyers are not all created equally; some are unquestionably smarter and more poised and articulate than others, and there is a huge variation in the level of skill and commitment that individuals possess or bring to any particular case or specialty topic.

Certified Family Law Specialists are highly likely to understand the legal complexities of modern divorce, and to be familiar and comfortable with current best practices in the mental health sciences as they relate to individual and family dynamics. Most attorneys lack sufficient interest to bother to undertake the fairly grueling training, education, and testing required for certification as a legal specialist. Although certification as a divorce expert does not guarantee the outcome you desire to achieve, it does stack the odds in your favor - hiring a specialist is more likely to pair you with an experienced legal professional who is at the top of the divorce lawyer bio-sphere. If your attorney is not certified, or even if he is and you sense that his advice is not efficient or it is not making sense to you (or others), it is no sin to discreetly step away, take some breaths, and get reliable and independent feedback.

If you are feeling uneasy about the quality of the legal representation you are receiving, don't ignore the signals. Given what is at stake, why not seek a second legal opinion from a qualified attorney? At worse you may find that your anxiety has been dispelled and that the real problem with you and your lawyer involves a lack of communication or a lack of understanding by one or both of you that can be remedied; at best you may avert a developing train crash before your life and finances are thoroughly wrecked.

We don't have crystal balls, but we all possess intuition and common sense. Use yours!

We offer Second Opinions and frank and discreet, expert advice, by telephone and video-conferencing and webcam!

Thurman W. Arnold III, C.F.L.S.

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