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Can I Switch My Criminal Defense Attorney Mid-Case?

By Ephrat Livni, Esq. | Last updated on

So you hired a criminal defense attorney who seemed to suit your style but now you have been working with this person for a bit, and you are not thrilled. You can change lawyers at most stages of your defense, although not all, and not without the court's approval.

But there is a process for this -- you must file a motion with the court to substitute counsel -- and the details will vary from state to state. Before you make the switch, let's consider when and why you might want to change lawyers and the process for doing so.

Plea or Trial?

You are entitled to a trial. If your attorney strongly advises against it but you insist that this is what you want, that may be a good basis for finding another attorney. Your lawyer might know better how cases generally go. But no one knows, apart from you, even if they have wise advice, what is right for you.

Sometimes lawyers and clients clash. Not every disagreement should end with you moving for a substitution of counsel. Still, if something happens that isn't to your taste and causes you to fundamentally distrust your attorney, then by all means work with someone you trust. Note, however, that there may be occasions when -- depending on the facts of the case and where in the prosecution process it stands -- that a judge may deny a motion for substitution of counsel.

Process for Switching to a New Attorney

Whether you are appointed a public defender or hire private counsel, your lawyer will file a document with the court notifying it that you are represented. When you want to switch attorneys, the new lawyer must move to substitute counsel and the court needs evidence that your prior attorney is aware of being replaced.

In many cases, the lawyer being replaced will stipulate to the substitution, meaning agree without argument, and then -- most likely -- a court will approve the substitution. But if you move to substitute counsel on the eve of trial, or at some other advanced stage in the case, then you might face a denial.

The further along you are in a matter, the more likely it is that you will need to really explain a switch to the court. In many cases, changing criminal defense attorneys is not a problem. But neither is it a guarantee that you will be able to switch easily.


If you or someone you know has been accused of a crime and you are unhappy with your attorney, take some time to meet with additional lawyers. You may find you are satisfied after all, having heard a few other assessments of your case. Or you may find the lawyer you want now. Regardless, many criminal defense attorneys consult for free or a minimal fee and will be happy to assess your case.

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