Changing Criminal Lawyers: Switching lawyers or law firms after a case has started is allowed in most instances, though it can result in additional costs and delays in the judicial process. Judges may not approve such a change if the court process has already started. People receiving Legal Aid are also not usually permitted to make such a move. Working out any difficulties you have with your current counsel might make more sense.
Table of Contents:
Can I Change Lawyers Midstream in a Case?
If you are unhappy with your legal counsel, you may want to hire someone new to represent you. While that is allowed in most circumstances, it could increase the cost of your defence, and there is no guarantee you will be happier with the new lawyer. If you are considering this, ensure you have thoroughly examined all possible consequences of this action.
When is Switching Lawyers Not Allowed?
If your case has progressed to a hearing in court, the judge will likely have to grant permission for a change in counsel. Before allowing such a move, there will be several factors to consider:
- Will this switch inconvenience the Crown and significantly delay the trial?
- How far along is the case in terms of hearing testimony?
- Are any co-accused affected by your decision?
- Do you have another lawyer willing to take your case?
While the Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees you have a right to legal counsel, the judge may decide that your decision to switch lawyers is not in the best interests of justice.
What Are the Reasons for Changing Lawyers?
After signing a retainer for a criminal lawyer, you may decide they are not keeping up with their duties outlined in the agreement. Some common warning signs are:
- They are not making an effort to explain what is happening in your case.
- You cannot get in touch with them and instead have to deal with other staff in their office.
- They try to sell you services you don't think you need.
- They disregard your input on the case.
Lawyers work on your behalf and can be dismissed if they are not meeting expectations. However, most people do not understand how the judicial process works, and it may not be the lawyer's fault that your case is not progressing as you expected. Clients sometimes have unrealistic expectations about lawyers' responsiveness and their work. Do not rush into the decision to fire a lawyer. They may be doing the best job given the circumstances.
Disadvantages of Changing Lawyers
Resolving issues with your current lawyer rather than changing legal counsel midstream is better. Miscommunication between a lawyer and client can lead to a sense of distrust, which a frank and open conversation can resolve.
The decision to change lawyers should not be taken lightly. You have already invested significant time and money into your case. Incoming legal counsel will need to start over to build your defence. That involves reviewing disclosure from the Crown and examining all relevant material associated with your case.
It should be noted that the court frowns on “lawyer shopping.” That is seen as a sign that a client is difficult and/or has unrealistic expectations about the judicial process.
What if I Am on Legal Aid?
If you have been granted Legal Aid, the court will generally not allow you to switch counsel midstream due to the added expense and delays it will cause.
What Are the Steps to Change Lawyers?
If you cannot resolve your issues with your lawyer, retain new counsel before letting the first one go. Notify your present lawyer about your decision and pay them for the work they have already done on your case. Ask for your file to be copied and transferred, as you provide them with the new lawyer’s name and contact information.
Your file may contain:
- all proceedings that have been filed in court;
- documents you provided to your lawyer, as well as disclosure from the Crown;
- expert reports; and
- all written communications between your lawyer and the Crown.
Your new lawyer can then work with court staff to make the change official.