You should not have to pay a larger fee for hiring a second lawyer than you would for staying with the first lawyer to the end of the case
Everyone is entitled to one mistake.
If you are not satisfied with your lawyer’s level of service or you have a personality conflict with him/her, you can certainly shop around for another lawyer without paying more legal fees.
Where your lawyer is working on a Contingency Fee Arrangement, the usual situation is that you do not have to pay any more money to hire a second lawyer. Rather, the two lawyers work out an arrangement at the end of the case whereby they share in the overall fees charged based on a percentage of work performed by each lawyer.
This means that you should not have to pay a larger fee for hiring a second lawyer than you would for staying with the first lawyer to the end of the case. Also, the fees owing to your first lawyer should not have to be paid when you fire him/her, but rather, the lawyer should be paid at the end of the case.
A word of caution. Some lawyers have you sign a Contingency Fee Arrangement allowing the firm to charge legal fees of up to 33.3% without reference to the fees owing to the previous lawyer(s). In that case, you would end up paying the previous lawyer(s) for their work plus the new lawyer full fees for his/her work. This could result in you paying up to 40-50% of the claim on fees, which is not allowed in law. Avoid hiring any lawyer that is not prepared to cover the existing lawyer’s fees out of the total fees he/she is proposing.
Of note, the lawyer you are firing usually has a Solicitor Lien against the file for his/her legal fees 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. Rarely can you avoid paying legal fees to a lawyer you have fired even if the lawyer was substandard.
With respect to any disbursements (i.e. expenses to run the case) that have been incurred by your first lawyer, the usual practice is for the second lawyer to pay out the first lawyer for the disbursements. Hence, you should not have an obligation to pay any disbursements at the time of moving your file to a new law firm. However, if you are trying to run the case on your own, which is never a good idea, you will have to come up with the money to buy-out the disbursements of your first lawyer to get the file.
There is a note of caution in changing lawyers. If you go to a second lawyer and then decide to fire him/her, it becomes increasingly difficult to find a top end lawyer to take your case regardless of the merit of the case. The reality of the situation is that most lawyers are very cautious about taking on a client who has gone through several lawyers. You are, in essence, “black listed” unless you have an excellent reason behind the transfer of the file between several lawyers. The impression that hiring multiple lawyers gives to the legal community is that you are a difficult client who will never be satisfied regardless of the level of service and the results.
Therefore, you only have a chance to hire maybe 2 lawyers before you may find most of the top lawyers in the legal community reluctant to represent you.