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Breaking Up Is Hard to Do, But Sometimes Necessary

mentor Apr 05, 2019

By Philip E. Goss, Jr., Esq.


While you won’t be reading this column until winter is in everyone’s rearview mirror, I’m penning this work on Valentine’s Day. This is an appropriate day to discuss your professional relationships, both how to make them prosper and, perhaps, how to end them.

As a business owner, your professional relationships with attorneys and accountants is vital. In many ways, these professionals are your unofficial, but de-facto, business partners. I know of few successful businesses, even small martial arts schools, that do not have both a trusted accountant and attorney on speed dial.

Personally speaking, new clients come to me strictly on referrals from satisfied clients. I’m fortunate to initially have the built-in bona-fides of a positive and trusted referral. My clients are happy with the services I provide. It is seldom that I voluntarily terminate a client, or vice-versa, but it does happen. Like any important relationship, an attorney-client relationship is based upon trust and communication.

The main reason why your relationship with your attorney would sour is communication, or, more aptly stated, a lack of communication. Communication is more than being available on short notice for a conversation. Communication is you expressing what your expectations are and, more importantly, how your attorney manages your expectations.

As in any human interaction and relationship, there are times where you are not in sync with the other. If this happens too frequently, a change may be in order.

I’m a proponent or “ripping off the band-aid” when a change is considered. The mere fact that you’re considering a change or termination of a professional relationship should tell you that you are 95% of the way there. Thus, any delay is stressful and unproductive. Once such idea crosses your mind, it is typically a fait accompli.

When you come to the point where you decide to part ways with your attorney, the easy thing is to just become incommunicado and hope things just quickly and quietly slide away. Sorry, but the nature of the relationship, unless nothing is presently pending, makes just silently going off into the night impossible.

The absolutely wrong way for your attorney to find out that you have decided to make a change is to have a new attorney contact her with the news.

My suggestions are as follows:

  • Schedule a meeting and be honest with your attorney why you have decided to make a change. Do not schedule this meeting unless you absolutely cannot be talked out of your decision. A telephone call, text or email is not an acceptable way to accomplish this most unpleasant task.
  • Ask for an accounting of financial issues. Address any concerns at that time. It’s important that you make arrangements for retiring any fees that may be due.
  • Go over all pending and potential legal issues. Bring a fresh legal pad and a newly inked pen. Ask that your files be copied and delivered to you or your successor attorney. The copying and delivery charges are properly your
  • I suggest that you already have a substitute attorney ready to take over your matters. However, if you are on the eve of trial, you may be required to temporarily ride with your current attorney. That’s because most times a judge will not continue a trial simply because you decide to change attorneys.
  • I suggest that you leave on good terms. You never know when you may need her assistance or to draw upon her institutional knowledge in the future.

Finally, it’s important that you are introspective regarding this experience. Ask yourself tough questions: What is your level of fault in the demise of this relationship? What can you do better with the next attorney? What type of attorney is best for your personality?

Some attorneys will do whatever their clients want. These are mercenaries who see clients as ATM machines. People that typically hire such representation can never “lose” or appear “weak,” even when it is clear that an accommodation is the best course. Other more evolved attorneys will tailor their advice based upon the circumstances and in the best interests of their clients.

An attorney has a very important place in your business. There are attorneys who have the personality to mesh with whatever your personality, level of aggression and business goals may be.

It’s often said that “opposites attract.” I have found this to be untrue in attorney–client relationships.


Attorney Phil Goss, Jr. welcomes any email comments or questions at [email protected] and will attempt to respond personally, time permitting.


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