This is post 3 of of our series on what qualities you should be looking for in a personal injury lawyer. Post 1 and Post 2 concentrated on the important of professional recognition by the lawyer’s peers, discussing six different points of evaluation.
7. How many years has the lawyer been practicing personal injury or wrongful death law?
Answer: There are lawyers who have been practicing law for 20 or 30 or even 40 years who lack the experience to handle a complicated personal injury or wrongful death case. There are lawyers who have been practicing eight years who have been fortunate enough to have worked in an environment that has fostered their ability to handle complicated personal injury or wrongful death cases.
Thus, while it is true that the number of years that a person has been practicing law is a relevant factor in determining whether they can handle a given case, it is only one factor. It is the actual experience of the lawyer, not the mere age or number of years of practice of the lawyer has, that is critical to understanding a lawyer’s competence.
So how do you determine that? Well, the best way, as we have discussed above, is the reputation of the law firm and the lawyers in it, as evidenced of how that firm and its lawyers rank in professional ranking organizations. The reputation of the firm among lawyers is a good way of determining the experience level and competence of the lawyers in it. Lawyers are simply not going to assign high ratings to other lawyers who lack experience or who do not do high quality work.
8. Does the lawyer have experience in the type of case you have?
Answer: As mentioned above, the issuance of a law license means you can practice law. Virtually any type of law. Legally, the lawyers of The Law Offices of John Day, P.C. could practice tax or securities law, even though, quite frankly, we know little about either subject.
Thus, a lawyer who says that he or she accepts medical malpractice cases tells you nothing about the experience of the lawyer. Absolutely nothing. Why? There are no rules to stop a tax lawyer from advertising for medical malpractice cases. There is nothing to stop a lawyer who handles relatively simple car wreck cases from advertising that he or she seeks complicated medical malpractice cases. A license to practice law is a license to practice almost any kind of law (patent law is different) and unfortunately a lawyer can tell the public that he or she can do anything.
So, how can you tell what kind of experience a lawyer really has? It is difficult, but here are some tips.
- Ask. Simply say, have you ever handled a case like this one before? Most lawyers will not lie about their experience.
- Look at the lawyer’s website. Today, most lawyers will give an idea of the types of cases they have done in the past on their website. If they don’t have examples of your type of case on the website, they may well not have handled that type of case before. Likewise, if they describe themselves as practicing in every conceivable area of law, one must wonder if they have significant experience in any one area.
- Look at the lawyer’s speeches. Most lawyers who are recognized by peers as having some degree of expertise with a given type of case are invited to speak about their expertise to other lawyers. The speeches the lawyer has given often will be listed on the lawyer’s website. Look at those speeches and you will often get an understanding of what areas the lawyer has some level of expertise in.
- Publications in Legal Journals. Lawyers who are recognized by peers as having some degree of expertise with a given type of case are invited to write about their expertise to other lawyers.
- What about amounts of verdicts and settlements? That may tell you something, and may tell you nothing. Lawyers tell an old joke that goes like this: Do you know how to get a $1,000,000 settlement? Mess up a $2,000,000 case. Experienced lawyers know that that the size of a verdict or settlement does not reveal much information on how well the case was prepared or tried. Indeed, a sizeable verdict or settlement could mean that the client had a good case and good have had even a better result if a more capable lawyer had handled the case. So, while the size of verdicts and settlements gives you an idea of the size of case the lawyers have experience working on, it does not tell you much about the quality of the work done on that case. That is why reputation is so important – other lawyers recognize a high-quality work product and ethical practice and reward those efforts with professional honors.
9. What staff support does the lawyer have?
Answer: Lawsuits of any size are a team effort, and each person in the office plays an important role in helping preparing the case and maximizing the recovery for the client. Thus, you should look at the other lawyers and staff in the office and determine whether they can work as a team to help you with your case.
On our larger cases we almost always have two or more lawyers working on every case. Why? Assigning two or more lawyers to every case means that if one lawyer is busy in trial or is out-of-state taking depositions in other cases work can still be done on your case.
So, we believe that a consumer thinking of employing a lawyer to help them should look at the experience of the entire firm. What should you look for? The same items on this list. The younger lawyers may not have achieved the professional recognition from peers that often comes with many years of sophisticated law practice, but you can often tell by their description of their experience whether they are on-track to achieve a reputation for professional excellence.
In conclusion, we believe that you should hire a law firm that has what a football coach would call “depth.” Any major case requires a team approach, and a review of the qualifications of the people in our firm reveals that we have a rock-solid team.
We will bring you Part 4 tomorrow.