Changing Attorneys in a Chapter 11 Case
When you are in the middle of a Chapter 11 bankruptcy case in Tampa, Florida, there are a number of different reasons that you may need to change attorneys. In some cases, your attorney makes serious errors that impact your case, resulting in an immediate need to find new counsel. In other situations, the reason for changing attorneys might not be quite as serious. For instance, a particular issue may have arisen in your case that requires the experience of a particular attorney or law firm. Or, in other cases, you may be working with a firm, and the firm may seek to assign a different lawyer to your case. This can often be frustrating.
Regardless of the reason for changing attorneys in a Chapter 11 case, most of these situations will require leave of court—or permission from the court—to change your lawyer. The following is information about actually changing your lawyer in the middle of a Chapter 11 bankruptcy case, followed by a discussion of some of the issues that can arise related to switching attorneys.
How Do I Change My Attorney, and Do I Need to Ask the Court for Permission?
For anyone in a Chapter 11 bankruptcy case in the Tampa Bay area, making the decision to change attorneys almost always requires permission from the court. Since Tampa is located in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court Middle District of Florida, a business seeking to change a lawyer in a Chapter 11 case will need to follow local rules concerning withdrawals and substitutions of counsel.
As the local rule states (Rule 2091-2), “an attorney may not withdraw in any case or proceeding except by leave of Court.” To seek permission from the court to have your current attorney withdraw from the case, a “motion for leave to withdraw” must be filed, and any interested parties must be given a response period. When you are changing attorneys and substituting counsel, the process is relatively similar. The rule states that “counsel seeking to withdraw from representation of a client may file a joint motion with counsel seeking to be substituted in as counsel for such client, in the relevant case or proceedings, requesting authority of the Court for substitution of counsel.”
To substitute counsel not from the same law firm, the client must consent to the substitution. For most cases, the court will not need to have a hearing in order to grant a motion for substitution of counsel. However, it is important to know that you do not need leave of court to substitute counsel within the same law firm. For example, if the lawyer representing you leaves the firm or the firm otherwise assigns a new lawyer to your case, the rule clarifies that “the substituting attorney may file a notice of substitution of counsel . . . without leave of Court.” The rule concerning substitution of counsel within the same law firm is new, and it took effect on July 1, 2019.
Changing Lawyers Because of Malpractice, Suspension, or Incompetence
In some situations, debtors realize that the bankruptcy lawyer they hired is not doing a good job. Reasons to seek out a new bankruptcy attorney can vary widely. For example, some people may be frustrated with a lawyer who does not seem responsive, and takes too long to answer phone calls or respond to emails. In more serious cases, a bankruptcy attorney might miss important deadlines or hearings, putting your bankruptcy case at risk altogether. Depending upon the severity of the errors, your lawyer’s mistakes could rise to the level of incompetence or malpractice. And of course, if your attorney gets disbarred or suspended by the Florida Bar, you need a new lawyer.
Limitations to Changing Lawyers During Your Chapter 11 Case
When a lawyer makes a serious mistake that affects your case or puts your ability to complete your Chapter 11 bankruptcy at risk, it may be necessary to find a new lawyer. Yet it is important to know that there are some drawbacks to changing attorneys—although these drawbacks may be outweighed by the benefits of having new counsel.
For example, the bankruptcy process can be delayed, and you will likely end up paying more money in the long run in attorney’s fees.
Contact a Tampa Bankruptcy Lawyer
If you need assistance with a Chapter 11 bankruptcy case, a Tampa Chapter 11 bankruptcy attorney at our firm can assist you. Contact Samantha L. Dammer for more information about the wide range of bankruptcy services we provide.