My attorney failed to submit an important document for my hearing which resulted in a continuance for one year. There are other issues such as refusing to share information with me even when I am entitled to it, terribly drafted motions, thousands of mistakes such as mixing up my SSN with others, getting my age and name wrong in my applications (had I not noticed).

In light of these facts, I have decided to dismiss him as my legal counsel and continue in the case pro se. What steps do I have to take to formally dismiss him from the case, beyond sending him an email of notice? I heard that he needs to file a motion called substitution to relevant parties. Do I have to file any motions myself?

  • Is this in the US? If so, noting the immigration tag, is the matter before an immigration court or a district court (I'm not sure whether that matters, but I suspect that it might).
    – phoog
    Commented Sep 11, 2018 at 19:25
  • yes, it's in the US. and it's before an immigration court.
    – J.E.Y
    Commented Sep 11, 2018 at 20:35
  • 6
    If you are in immigration court, please, please, please do not go pro se. If you don't like your lawyer, find a new one. Do not, do not, do not get your legal advice from this website. It frequently sounds much more reliable than it actually is, and many people providing answers have no meaningful training or experience.
    – bdb484
    Commented Sep 12, 2018 at 14:21

1 Answer 1


what are the steps to kick off the dismiss procedure except for sending him an email of notice?

In addition to sending him an email, you should also notify him via USPS Certified Mail with Return Receipt. That will make it harder for him to deny his awareness of your decision to fire him (keep in mind that he might otherwise try to send you more bills).

You also need to file in court a motion for substitution of counsel (serving a copy thereof to any other parties). The motion's label is not as important as the assertions you make in it. In that motion you will indicate that you wish to proceed in pro per, or identify the attorney who henceforth will represent you (I think the new attorney will have to file in court a notice of appearance, but I am not sure).

Although you are not expected to explain in your motion the reasons for firing the lawyer, I would encourage you to state them, as these might be relevant if your matter ends up in an appellate court.

how to draft such a motion, what's format?

I strongly encourage you to get acquainted with the court rules (aka rules of procedure) of the jurisdiction where your matter is being litigated. There are significant overlaps of procedural law among jurisdictions, but there might also be some noteworthy differences.

Roughly speaking, a motion consists of:

  • motion header;
  • the facts on which your motion is premised;
  • the relief you expect from that motion;
  • a brief, where the party develops his legal arguments and presents laws favoring his position.

Given the nature of this motion in particular, you might not have to cite laws except the procedural provision(s) (if any) addressing substitution of counsel. More generally, http://www.leagle.com/leaglesearch?exact=immigration+court is a great resource where you can find case law with which to support your arguments.

I have never litigated in immigration court, but in the latter portion of this page (see section Trial Court) you will see various motions filed by me (and others by the defendant) in one of my cases in state court.

Although I promote litigation in pro per, the whole process (starting with the learning curve) is very challenging. On the bright side, you are about to save thousands of dollars and gain much more control over your case than through a lawyer.

And once your matter runs its course, don't forget to report the lawyer with the corresponding agency in charge of disciplining malpracticing attorneys (for instance, in Michigan it would be the Attorney Grievance Commission). We pro se litigants have to endure so much prejudice, whereas situations like yours show that the legal "profession" leaves much to be desired.

  • 1
    I believe immigration court practice is uniform throughout the US, since immigration courts are operated by the Justice department rather than the judicial branch. See justice.gov/eoir/office-chief-immigration-judge-0.
    – phoog
    Commented Sep 11, 2018 at 20:53
  • @phoog Thanks. The OCIJ practice manual in that link is a good resource. And yes, immigration is a federal (rather than state) matter, so it indeed is uniform throughout the US. About not being operated by the judicial branch, the thing is that once all remedies at the USCIS/DOJ (such as the Board of Immigration Appeals) have been exhausted, the next venues up the ladder are federal district (?) and appellate (called "Circuit") courts. Commented Sep 11, 2018 at 20:57
  • 1
    Yes, of course, the matter may pass to the judicial branch eventually, but while it remains before the immigration court the practice manual should be the source of procedural information. I would also call J.E.Y's attention to chapter 10, discipline of practitioners.
    – phoog
    Commented Sep 11, 2018 at 21:04
  • Thanks to both Inaki Viggers and phoog for the insightful info, very helpful. I also did my homework. I heard OCIJ practical manual from my IJ's clerk, he told me to go through Chpt#5 for motion info. I'd like to know though, how likely I can properly act Pro se? A lawyer told me that IJ don't like Pro se, even have the authority to deny such a motion. I guess that they don't like to spend extra time explaining lingos. If so I might just play safe and hire another lawyer. Any comments on that? my case is with NJ immigration court.
    – J.E.Y
    Commented Sep 12, 2018 at 2:13
  • 1
    @J.E.Y "A lawyer told me that IJ don't like Pro se, even have the authority to deny such a motion"Judges deny motions regardless of whether these are drafted/filed by attorneys or pro se litigants, whence that lawyer sounds like a charlatan trying to scare a kid. Motions to proceed in pro per are denied if the party has a mental disability, is unruly, or vexatious. If you are (1) able to get up to speed with the applicable laws, legal terms & rules of procedure; (2) diligent about your case; and (3) concise in your arguments, then you got everything you need to represent yourself in court. Commented Sep 12, 2018 at 10:27

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