In nine years of helping people find the right lawyer for their situation or just answering Illinois legal questions, I estimate that I’ve talked to approximately 140,000 people. Many of those people have come to us looking for a new attorney or questioning whether they should stick with their current attorney. While not as many people end their relationship with their attorney as get divorced (it’s about 50% for divorce), there are a lot of people stuck in an unhappy relationship with their lawyer. Many others finish off a case and know that they’ll never work with that attorney again. In my opinion, here are the top 10 reasons people fire an attorney in Illinois.
1. They don’t get call backs. Two to three times a day we hear from someone who has an attorney that doesn’t call back. Your attorney isn’t supposed to be available 24/7, but if you leave a message and don’t hear back within 24-48 hours it’s a problem. I’m shocked at the number of lawyers that ignore multiple messages, some over a period of months. For some reason the clients just take it. You don’t have to. In almost any case you can easily switch lawyers.
2. The lawyer is rude. Most attorneys you meet are no different than you or any of your friends in real life. But some get in to “lawyer mode” and just act like jerks. Others don’t have the patience to explain things to clients. Still others just hate what they are doing and take it out on the client. There is no excuse for it. We got a call once from a lady whose husband had died from possible medical malpractice. As if she didn’t have enough troubles, the Chicago malpractice lawyer she hired yelled at her whenever she inquired about the case. Unbelievable.
3. The client realizes the attorney doesn’t know what they are doing. Once you get into a case and see that the opposing attorney seems much smarter than your lawyer it makes sense it would scare you.
4. They don’t feel that the lawyer is fighting for them. This is sometimes true and sometimes just perception. But if you are hurt on the job and without pay for six months or in a custody battle where you haven’t seen your kids in weeks, if your law firm doesn’t express a sense of urgency it’s a problem.
5. They realize that the law firm they hired doesn’t do a lot of work in the county where the case is taking place. A top criminal lawyer in Chicago isn’t a great hire for you if your case is in Lake County and the lawyer rarely goes there. In family law, criminal defense, workers’ compensation and other types of cases, the Judges tend to favor the lawyers they see all the time.
6. It’s just costing too much. If you hire a divorce lawyer and they estimate the case will take $3,500 from start to finish and suddenly your bill is at $10,000, that’s a problem. For some they can’t afford to go on. For others it creates a trust issue.
7. They think they could do just as good on their own. We see this a lot in family law when someone has been in a case for years. It’s an understandable frustration that unfortunately is often wrong. Many Judges just won’t listen to people that are representing themselves.
8. The attorney didn’t know the case. Imagine how you’d feel if you were counting on someone to represent you and despite all of the information you have given them they show up to court and are scrambling to figure out what the facts are.
9. The lawyer hasn’t followed through on what they said they were going to do. Some law firms in Illinois are great about sitting down with a client and getting a plan together. Yet after they tell the client about the motions they will file or the evidence that they will present they do nothing. Wills in Illinois are supposed to be filed within 30 days of someones passing. How would you feel if you went to a probate lawyer and learned six months later they had done nothing?
10. The case gets shuffled from one attorney to another. When hiring a law firm, we always suggest that you verify who will actually be handling your case. Some firms have high turnover, some move files around. In one case, a woman told us that in 12 months there were six different lawyers that were assigned to her file. Each time a switch was made she was sent a form letter that said who the new attorney would be and how “excited” they were to work with her. That’s not an isolated story. One workers compensation law firm in Chicago is known for hiring young lawyers who never stay very long before they find a better job. One guy told us that in two years he had five different attorneys with that firm. About ten other callers have had similar experiences.
Like a marriage, you want your relationship with your law firm to work out. But if it’s not successful it is almost always easy and inexpensive to make a change. You just want to do so before it’s too late.
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