How do you choose the best lawyer for your case?

You probably would not hire your dermatologist to perform brain surgery, and you should not hire a probate lawyer or a tax lawyer to handle a serious injury case. Every lawyer licensed in your state is technically qualified to practice law and even go to court, but lawyers specialize, just like doctors. Some have developed those specialties through experience and others have earned credentials similar to Board certification for doctors. A tax lawyer or estates and trusts lawyer may have earned the AEP designation (Accredited Estate Planner), an LLM (Master of Laws) in those fields of law.  Personal injury lawyers can be certified as Civil Trial Specialists by the National Board of Trial Advocacy after demonstrating extensive trial experience and by passing a rigorous examination.  Super Lawyers, a division of Thomson Reuters (publishers of Westlaw) rates attorneys based on experience and recognition of expertise within a particular area of practice, such as Personal Injury – Plaintiff.  If your legal problem is any more involved than drafting a power of attorney or a deed or a simple will, you should try to find an attorney who specializes in the particular area of law at issue.

These guidelines apply to finding the best lawyer for your personal injury case, as well as for a divorce, a criminal case, estate planning, or bankruptcy:

  • Start by learning about your legal problem. Search the internet, and read some articles, so you can begin to understand the issues and what kind of lawyer you really need.
  • Depending on the situation, ask family, friends or a trusted professional for the names of some attorneys who you might want to contact. Good attorneys will usually have a good reputation.
  • Use a genuine peer reviewed or client reviewed directory, such as Lawyers.com, Findlaw, Avvo or Super Lawyers to identify lawyers who have the necessary experience and credentials to handle your case or legal problem. Such resources provide unbiased ratings from other lawyers and from clients who have used their services.
    • Warning: The internet is full of lawyer referral services which are nothing but paid advertising, with no assurance of experience or credentials. Be careful and check out the source.
  • See if your local bar association has a referral service. For example, the Chattanooga Bar Association has an online listing of lawyers and their practice areas at www.chattanoogalaw.org/www.
  • State wide professional associations typically provide a directory of members and often list the specific areas of practice they handle.

Narrow Your List

Once you’ve narrowed the list down to several names, use the following checklist to screen them:

  • Go to the law firm’s website and review the lawyer’s biographical information. Does he or she appear to have expertise and experience in the area of law you need?
  • What kind of clients does the attorney represent? Sometimes law firms will post a client list on their websites, particularly those representing businesses and insurance companies. If you cannot tell what kind of clients they represent, call and ask.
  • Use search engines to find professional articles, white papers or other informational pieces the lawyer may have written. Search for reported verdicts, settlements and court opinions. “Google” the lawyer’s name and see what turns up.
  • Is the lawyer a member of state and national professional associations? This usually indicates a strong commitment to the legal profession, to continuing legal education, and to high ethical standards. If your case involves a serious injury, find out if the lawyer is a member of the American Association for Justice, or the Tennessee Association for Justice, the Georgia Trial Lawyers Association, the Alabama Association for Justice, or other states trial lawyers associations.
  • Ask people in your area if they’ve heard of the attorney you are considering and what they think about him or her.
  • Do you have any special needs to consider such as an attorney who speaks Spanish or who has a Spanish speaker on staff?

At this point, you should have a “short list” of two or three names. Contact the attorney and schedule a consultation. Lawyers will often provide a free or low cost initial consultation to your situation, determine whether he or she can help and to give you an opportunity to ask some questions.

Ten Questions To Ask Your Potential Lawyer

  • How long has he or she practiced law?
  • What type of cases does the lawyer generally handle? What percentage of his or her practice is devoted to (the practice area in question)?
  • Who is the lawyer’s typical client?
  • How many cases has he or she handled that are similar to mine?
  • What kind of special training or knowledge does the lawyer have that might apply in my situation?
  • What are the attorney fees and costs? Can the case be handled on a contingency fee? If not, how will I be billed?
  • Who will I be working with? Will the lawyer I meet with actually be handling my case?
  • How will the lawyer let me know what’s happening with my case?
  • What is the likely outcome in my case?
Use your common sense and gut instincts in deciding who to hire. Ask questions. Your relationship with the lawyer can last several years and requires confidence and trust. You want to choose the best lawyer to do the best job for you.

Should I choose a lawyer who advertises on TV?

Turn on the TV and you will see endless ads asking you to call some lawyer if “you’ve been in a wreck and need a check,” “or call us, its just that easy.”

Serious accident cases are not that easy.  TV advertisers are often just high volume settlement mills, looking for a quick buck at the expense of their clients.

“Some severely injured clients are represented by settlement mills . . . and they are likely represented by settlement mills to their detriment.” Run of the Mill Justice, Nora Freeman Engstrom, The Georgetown Journal of Legal Ethics, Vol. 22:1485, p. 1537-1538.

“Those who have meritorious claims and have been seriously injured are least apt to benefit from” settlement mill law firms. Id. p. 1547.

How Can I Avoid Settlement Mills?

  • Beware of high volume TV advertising attorneys looking for quick settlements in car wreck cases.
  • The first question should be – is guy on TV even licensed to practice in the state where your case arises?
  • Beware of law firms with “case managers.”  Case Managers are not lawyers.  You do not want to meet your lawyer for the first time just outside the courtroom when you are about to go to trial.
  • Most importantly, is the advertising lawyer prepared to file suit and go to trial if necessary to win your case? Has the lawyer actually tried a case in the state and county where the case will be brought?