Q: I switched lawyers during the case -- is the first one entitled to any of the settlement?
A: By statute, a discharged lawyer is entitled to reasonable compensation for the time expended, plus any out-of-pocket costs advanced in connection with the representation. Ordinarily, your new counsel works out the compensation with your old counsel. This can be however your new counsel is willing to handle the issue. For instance, under the statute, the new lawyer keeps the full contingent fee, while the old counsel must present a bill for time expended multiplied by their reasonable hourly rate. All fees are then deducted from the total settlement. In practice, most lawyers will agree to split the contingent fee based on each firm's efforts and risk undertaken in the case, in which case you only pay the one contingent fee and the lawyers divvy up the contingent fee as they may agree. If there is no agreement, or you refuse to authorize your new lawyer to pay out of your end of the recovery the old lawyer's fees, then the new lawyer must pay the disputed fees into court and let a judge decide. In Maryland, at the request of the client, there is a mandatory fee dispute resolution process that your lawyer must participate in to resolve the dispute. There is no cost to the client to follow this route. The State Bar Association manages the process for most Maryland counties, but some counties, like Montgomery, Prince George's and Baltimore City, have their own local bar fee dispute procedures that you must use in those counties.
A: First, that isn't really your problem unless the first lawyer want's to make it your problem. Usually lawyers work out any such issues well before the point of award. The second lawyer takes the case subject to the claim of the first lawyer, but if you discharge lawyer #1, then go to #2, chances are lawyer 1 waives his claim if he doesn't say he has it for the work done when you discharge him. Speak with your attorney if you have a question.
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