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What is substitution of attorney?

A substitution of attorney is a document in which a party to a lawsuit declares the attorney who has handled his/her case thus far will be substituted by a different attorney or by the party representing himself/herself, which is also referred to as “propia persona” in legal terms. In most cases, the former attorney and the replacement attorney each need to sign the document, thereby agreeing to the substitution. However, the new attorney’s signature on the agreement will suffice as it is the right of a party to change or replace counsel at any time. This document should be filed in court.

I have hired a lawyer but would like to represent myself for one item. Is this allowed?

The court will allow you to file what you feel is relevant but the court will want your attorney to represent you at the oral hearing. If you wish to represent yourself, the attorney will need to withdraw himself/herself from the case. To withdraw from the case, your attorney would need to file a motion of withdrawal which has your signature and would need to be present for a quick hearing on the matter. He/she can also sign a motion for substitution of attorney, which offers to substitute another lawyer on his/her behalf. If your lawyer does not agree to leave the case, your new attorney can file a motion for a hearing and request the judge grant it. Once the decree is granted the former lawyer’s association with the case ceases.

How do I fill a substitution of attorney form in California if I am going to be representing myself? Whom should I notify of this change?

In order to fill, file, and serve a substitution of attorney form correctly and completely, certain points need explanation. Below are the details that need to be filled:

  • The top of the block requires your contact address and not your former attorney’s information
  • For point 1, mention your attorney’s name
  • For point 2, tick/check the box mentioning party is representing self
  • For point 4, you are the signatory
  • For point 5, your former attorney signature is needed
  • For point 6, your signature is required


This document needs to be filed in court with a copy sent to all parties involved in the case. Your former attorney needs to be served a certified copy of the document, preferably in person or through certified mail. You could retain the acknowledgement as proof of receipt. Even without the lawyer’s signature, you could file the original with the court clerk and indicate the copy has been mailed to the lawyer.

This is a link to substitution attorney form: http://www.courtinfo.ca.gov/forms/fillable/mc050.pdf

I relieved my attorney, who was handling a few workers’ compensation cases, from one case he was handling for me. He them withdrew from the other cases as well, informing both me and the worker’s compensation board was. However, the board is continuing to send him important documents. How can I stop this?

If the attorney has withdrawn from the cases and the workers compensation board has acknowledged this, no correspondence should be sent to the attorney. You need to ensure a substitution of attorney form has been filled removing him as “attorney of record” on these cases. If this hasn’t been done, the documents may continue being sent to the former attorney. The substitution attorney form needs to specify if you have hired another attorney as a replacement. If you have, his/her signature along with your signature is required on the form. If you are handling the case “pro per” which means on your own without an attorney, you would need to mention this and file the form naming yourself as the attorney.

In California, can I fire/substitute my attorney and reclaim the payment made to him/her?

You have the right to retain, substitute, or terminate your attorney at any time. If you relieve your attorney, he/she is entitled to bill you for his/her time and the work done by his/her staff on the case. The attorney should provide you with an accounting of the fees and explanation of the charges upon request. As per the California Bar Association ruling, once the client-attorney relationship is terminated, attorneys are required to promptly return any unused fee charged by them. This would be the case unless you have entered a “flat fee arrangement” in which payment is made immediately after the lawyer is hired. Attorneys also have an ethical obligation to charge reasonable fees. False billings, exaggeration of fees, or failure to perform professional duties could result in attorney discipline. If there is a dispute in these matters which you are unable to resolve amicably with the attorney directly, you can file a complaint and request for a mandatory fee negotiation, through the California Bar Association.

Dealing with legal matters can be a difficult task. You depend on and trust your lawyers to provide you with the right information in order to reach the most suitable solution in your legal battles. When the relationship of the client and attorney is strained for any reason, substitution of attorney provides an alternative to replace your counsel or an opportunity for you to defend yourself. It is important to know your rights and options in this matter and Experts can be helpful in guiding you with the right information.

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