Getting the axeCan a client get “fired” by his lawyer? Aren’t lawyers always looking for new clients – and wouldn’t they want to keep clients they were already working for – not give them the axe?

The short answer is YES, attorneys want and need clients. The long answer is that it is a two-way street. Clients can commit actions or have habits that make it difficult for an attorney to continue to work with them. These traits include lying to your lawyer, ignoring your lawyer’s advice, and being generally discourteous.

I recently came across a great post for clients, “The Top 10 Ways to Get Fired by Your Lawyer,” at

In the blog post, patent lawyer Brett Trout explains the 10 most common client actions he believes will cause an attorney to call it quits on a case. I wanted to focus on two of Trout’s tips and use them to illustrate how I work with my personal injury and medical malpractice clients at the Ziff Law Firm.

Communication is key – right from the start

Two issues that can cause friction between client and attorney are when the client fails to pay promptly and/or nitpicks the bill.

As Trout explains: “Failing to pay your bill within 30 days of the invoice is no guarantee your lawyer will fire you, but it certainly does not help. If you have a concern about the bill, contact your lawyer immediately to discuss it.” As for nitpicking, Trout explains that he is not referring to genuine fee disputes, but cases in which a client consistently has issues with his or her lawyer’s bills.

Most of my clients do not pay by the hour. I work on a contingency fee, receiving one-third of the amount recovered after expenses are deducted off the top. Because of this arrangement, I don’t have issues with people paying me late or nitpicking my bills. (To see how clients with representation still come out ahead financially, check out the ZiffLaw Accidents and Car Crashes FAQ.)

I also believe, however, that one of the reasons that I have never had a fee dispute with a client in more than 22 years of practice is because I spend time going through the details of my retainer agreement right at the very beginning of our representation.

Any good lawyer is willing to spend the time to make sure that a client understands exactly how fees and disbursements are calculated and paid. It’s one of the ways we make sure we don’t get “fired” by our clients – but rather work together to achieve the resolution they are looking for.




James B. Reed, Esq.
Personal Injury & Malpractice Attorney
Ziff Law Firm, LLP
303 William St., Elmira, NY 14901
Tel: (607) 733-8866
Fax: (607) 732-6062
Toll Free: 1-800-943-3529

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