Selecting An Attorney
From yellow pages advertising to Internet publicity to television spots, consumers are faced with a barrage of messages touting various attorneys — making it very difficult to select the right individual and firm. While wading through the options available, it’s important to keep a few key criteria in mind. The lawyer you select must:
- Be someone you trust and feel comfortable with.
- Show that he or she is competent in the specific area of law that pertains to your case. Personal injury law is an area of specialties.
- Have a proven track record with cases like yours. In major personal injury and medical malpractice areas, it’s especially important that the attorney has a proven history of successful jury verdicts — which indicate trial experience and skill — as well as impressive settlements.
To start the process, look at state and national legal databases, publications and lists, including Best Lawyers in America and the Martindale Hubbell legal directory, to identify top trial attorneys.
Once you’ve identified attorneys who may be suitable for your case, ask specific questions to find out about their experience and competence levels before making any decisions:
What experience does the attorney have in practice areas relevant to my case?
Different types of cases call for different skills and some, like malpractice cases or major damage cases, require lawyers who are well versed in these specific practice areas. Make sure the attorney concentrates in the most relevant field, and look for individuals with proven track records in cases like yours.
What is the attorney’s trial record?
Successful lawyers settle most of their cases prior to trial — but often that is because of a respected (and sometimes feared) trial reputation. History of success in the courtroom is vital, as it gives personal injury lawyers much more leverage to negotiate favorable settlements by threatening to take the case to trial. The defendant may be willing to pay for compensation due when the lawyer has a proven track recordAny attorney with a license can claim to be a trial lawyer, but actual experience and proven results are what really count. Even if experienced, not all trial lawyers are qualified for all types of cases — make sure the attorney has successfully tried and won significant verdicts in cases like yours.
What is the attorney’s settlement record?
Almost any lawyer can settle a case by simply agreeing to what the defendant offers. And unfortunately, many lawyers settle cases out of fear of going to court. In contrast, highly professional and capable lawyers achieve maximum settlement results by building strong reputations in their practice areas, and using success in the courtroom as a negotiating tool.
When selecting a personal injury attorney, it’s important to consider how much experience he or she has negotiating large settlements in major damage cases. Inexperienced lawyers are at an obvious disadvantage when it comes to dealing with such cases.
What is the attorney’s reputation among fellow lawyers and judges?
Reputation counts in the courtroom, and also can speak volumes about how the attorney will manage your case. The attorney should be known among his or her peers as capable, hard working, client-focused and ethical. The attorney should have an untarnished history of ethical conduct, along with outstanding results. Again, you can research national lists, such as Best Lawyers in America, to identify highly regarded attorneys.
Is the attorney a member of invitation-only nationally recognized legal groups?
There are two categories of professional trial organizations: those that any attorney can join by paying a fee, and those whose members are invited based on their demonstrated expertise and reputation. Membership in nationally recognized invitation-only professional trial organizations is a very positive indication of the lawyer’s skill and standing in the legal community. A good example is the Inner Circle of Advocates, an invitation-only organization whose members are limited to 100 plaintiff attorneys throughout the United States that have completed at least 50 personal injury jury trials and received at least one $1 million jury verdict in a personal injury case. Other organizations include the American Board of Trial Advocates (ABOTA), American College of Trial Lawyers, International Society of Barristers, Damage Attorneys Round Table (DART), and International Academy of Trial Lawyers.
Along this line, the attorney’s contribution to professional development is also important. Successful trial lawyers are asked to speak often at legal seminars, and usually publish papers — and even books — about their practice areas. Find out the attorney’s background in this area.
Finally, before you sign a contract with any lawyer, protect yourself by making sure you clearly understand fee arrangements and the working relationship with the legal team. Some key questions include:
- Is there a charge for the initial conference to review your case?
- If the attorney accepts your case, how much is the fee? Is it a percentage-based fee, and if so, how is it computed? Ask for a copy of the fee agreement.
- Will anybody help the attorney work on the case, and if so, who? Will every member of the legal team be qualified to take on your case?
- How long will it take for the case to be resolved?
- Will your attorney communicate regularly with you about your case? How — with regular meetings, e-mail or another method?
- Is there a retainer? Are you expected to pay costs accrued as incurred or at the conclusion of the case? Will you receive monthly accounting of costs advanced?