What do you do if your lawyer dies?

Unfortunate and unavoidable events can happen that prevent a lawyer from representing their client. (Photo: iStock)
Unfortunate and unavoidable events can happen that prevent a lawyer from representing their client. (Photo: iStock)

When somebody is involved in a legal dispute or trial, normally their lawyer sees the case through until the very end. Sometimes, unfortunate and unavoidable things happen that prevent a lawyer from representing their client – like death.

What happens if your lawyer passes away mid-case? Where does this leave the case and the client?

First off, if the firm the lawyer comes from is large, the possibility exists that multiple lawyers have been exposed to the case. If this is true, then have no fear: chances are the case could be handed over to another familiar lawyer within the firm.

If the firm is smaller, there is still a good chance that another lawyer from the firm could take on the case. Be sure to inquire as soon as possible so no time is wasted.

Whether the firm is small or large, in order to insure a smooth transition, it is important for the lawyer and the client to feel comfortable with the new match. If this isn’t viable, it’s key for the client to get their file and any other imperative documents as quickly as possible from the firm (or sole practitioner) to find a new lawyer. The client is entitled to their documents as long as they have paid their legal fees.

Next, the court needs to be informed of the situation. Most likely, the courts will accommodate the client, including extending deadlines for example, until they find someone else to represent them.

Sometimes, clients do not need to search further for another lawyer if their former lawyer has a successor he/she has left their practice or case files to. This solution would be entirely out of a client’s hands unless they inquired prior to hiring the lawyer.

Think of it this way: This is similar to leaving behind your most prized possessions to someone you trust or to a loved one in a will, except instead of money and items, the lawyer leaves behind cases.

If succession planning is a major concern, it’s best to inquire with any legal professional prior to hiring them for your case. Not all lawyers have an assigned successor in case of emergency.

Of course, once a new lawyer is on the case, they must be paid. Be sure to have the remaining funds transferred back to you from the previous lawyer’s trust fund account. Maintain contact with the firm to ensure this occurs.
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