Being Fired by Your Lawyer

The lawyer that fires you “with cause” will have a Solicitor Lien against the file for his/her legal fees and disbursements owing

Getting fired by your lawyer is a serious blow to your case. ICBC will receive the Notice of the Withdrawal of Solicitor from that lawyer. As well, the lawyer will likely place a Solicitor Lien on the file simply by sending a letter to ICBC and/or the defense lawyer. The Solicitor Lien effectively prevents ICBC from distributing money to you unless the lien is satisfied because the law says that if ICBC distributes money without satisfying the lien, they are responsible for the lien payment. The Solicitor Lien becomes a first charge against the file.

If you and your lawyer are having personality conflicts, have different views of the value of the case, wish to take different legal approaches, etc., you should try to move the file to a new lawyer before you get fired. The main reason is it is a lot easier to get a new lawyer if the old one is still working on the case. Also, ICBC does not catch wind of the fact there is a significant issue with you as a client or your file. Indeed, the presumption if a lawyer withdraws is that you are a difficult client or there is a serious issue about the merit and value of the file.

The lawyer that fires you “with cause” will have a Solicitor Lien against the file for his/her legal fees and disbursements owing. The fees are usually determined based on the percentage of completion of the work to the time of being fired although some lawyers try to advance a fee claim based on hours worked on the file.

If the lawyer has withdrawn from the case “without cause” you do not have to pay your lawyer any legal fees. Therefore, it is advantageous, if you are trying to avoid paying legal fees to your lawyer, to get fired for no clear reason set out in the Contingency Fee Agreement. However, as stated above, the downside is that ICBC and the defense lawyer will see this as a weakness in your case as most lawyers will hang on and deal with even the most difficult client.

With respect to getting your file from your ex-lawyer, usually the lawyer will want his/her disbursements paid up-front. If you cannot get another lawyer to take over the file and cannot afford to pay for the disbursements, you can apply to Court to get access to the file. The Courts most often force the lawyer to give up the file as without the file, it is difficult to carry on. However, the lawyer still has the Solicitor Lien with the expectation that he/she gets paid the legal fees and disbursements at the end of the claim.

It is usually a very bad idea to continue the case without a lawyer especially if the case is in the litigation stage. The defense lawyer will have a clear advantage in the litigation due to training and experience. ICBC will usually lowball settlement or force the case to trial knowing they have a clear advantage. Indeed, running a file to judgment is hard for an entry level lawyer so for a lay litigant without training and experience, the task is nearly impossible to complete satisfactory.

If you are fired, it is best to learn from it. It usually takes a lot for a lawyer to send you out the door as the lawyer risks losing his/her legal fees and disbursements not to mention the lawyer has one less paying client. When you go out to find the next lawyer, try to eliminate the issues that got you fired in the first place.