Can I Change Defence Lawyers During A Criminal Case?

August 6, 2020

If you have lost trust in your lawyer, you do have the right to change counsel. Losing trust in your lawyer before trial is stressful and needs to be addressed as soon as possible.  But should you switch lawyers?

Depending on how far along your case is you may need permission from a Judge to change your lawyer. The Judge can exercise their discretion to stop you from changing lawyers after considering several factors:

  • The complexity of the case
  • Re-scheduling of the trial
  • The right of any co-accused to have their trials completed in an appropriate amount of time
  • Inconvenience to the Crown, police and other witnesses 

The judge balances these considerations against your Charter right to have the counsel of your choosing. Even where the Judge may allow you to switch lawyers, it’s not always in your best interest to do so.

Disadvantages of Changing Lawyers During Your Case

Where possible, it’s generally better to resolve issues with your counsel, rather than change horses mid-race. Often the problem is as simple as miscommunication between the lawyer and the client. An honest conversation can solve these problems. 


Getting a new criminal lawyer during a trial comes with a price tag. You still have to pay your current lawyer any remaining payments. As well, your new criminal lawyer doesn’t just pick up where the old one left off. You have to pay that lawyer for their time in learning the background of the case and all the initial work you paid your first lawyer to get up to speed on the details. As well, you have to cover their fees while they catch up on how your case has progressed. 

Effectively you double up on the initial costs while also losing valuable time that could be spent on your defence.

Familiarity With the Case

At this point, your lawyer has already invested significant time thinking about the case, the evidence, and the defence strategy. This time is valuable and cannot be re-created by a new lawyer in just a few days.

The new lawyer starts at a disadvantage, having to start from behind on this analysis and strategy as they familiarize themselves with the case. All this while, the Crown can continue their analysis without interruption.

Lawyer Shopping

“Lawyer shopping” is often frowned upon by Courts. A single instance of changing lawyers may not reflect upon the defendant. If it becomes a pattern, however, it may be taken as an attempt to cause delays. 

Being perceived as “lawyer shopping” can also make it difficult to hire a criminal lawyer. The frequent changes are often seen as a sign that a client is difficult and/or has unrealistic expectations.

What to do Before Firing Your Defence Lawyer

If you do decide to switch lawyers, there are a few important steps you should take first:

  1. Get a Second Opinion: Getting a second opinion from another lawyer gives you an outsider’s professional view on your concerns. They can help clarify whether the problem you face relates to your current representation.
  2. Attempt Resolution: Raise issues and attempt to resolve problems with your existing counsel. It’s important to try and resolve your issues – even if it does not lead to keeping your counsel, it may help you avoid the same issues with your new lawyer.
  3. Hire a New Lawyer Before Firing the Existing One: In order to reduce delays, the Judge may not let you dismiss your lawyer before you hire a new one. As such, it’s better to secure new counsel first.
  4. Put Instructions & Goals in Writing: Lawyers hate representing clients that don’t trust them and don’t clearly express their instructions. Putting your expectations in writing provides clarity, ensuring both parties are on the same page.

Reasons People Seek a New Lawyer

We believe that sticking with your current counsel during a criminal case is usually the better course. That said, in some scenarios, it may become or feel necessary to switch criminal lawyers. Here are a few of the more common reasons that people change lawyers during a criminal case.

  • Communication: Poor or slow communication is frustrating. It can make the lawyer appear disorganized or disinterested in your case. If your lawyer is consistently non-responsive or slow to respond, it can be a red flag.
  • Loss of Faith/Confidence: If you no longer have faith that your lawyer can effectively represent your needs and/or protect your rights, it’s likely time to move on.
  • Miscommunication: Miscommunication is one of the more common causes of a loss of confidence. Often you and your lawyer are saying the same thing and have the same goals but are using different languages. It may be possible to solve this issue through an open and frank conversation, but it requires willingness and effort from both parties.
  • Repeated Errors/Delays: Missing deadlines, always needing extensions, and having disorganized files can lead to losing confidence in your lawyer. In some instances, it may even have a direct negative impact on you and your trial.
  • Conflicting Personalities: Some partnerships simply don’t work out. If you and your lawyer cannot see eye-to-eye, it may be worth exploring a second opinion.

Hire a Toronto Criminal Lawyer Who Protects Your Interests

If you are seeking a defence lawyer to take on, or take over, your criminal case you can trust the experience and expertise of William Jaksa. William Jaksa is a Toronto criminal lawyer who understands that you are not your charges. He protects your interests while helping you understand your charges, your options, and the potential outcomes.

Contact William Jaksa, Toronto criminal lawyer, today for your consultation.

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