This six-post series discusses the factors you should consider in determining who you should hire as your personal injury or wrongful death lawyer.
Part 1, 2 and 3 identified nine factors. Here are three more:
10. Understand how the lawyer charges for time and expenses.
Answer: Ask the lawyer how they charge for their services. We believe that you will find that the most experienced, highly regarded lawyers and their firms rarely charge a higher contingent fee than less-experienced lawyers. Indeed, we are aware of many lawyers with no- or little-experience in a particular area of law who actually charge more than those who have experience. A reasonable consumer would ask this question: why should I pay the same fee (or more) for a lawyer with less experience?
11. What is the disciplinary history of the lawyer?
Answer: Lawyers are regulated by the Tennessee Supreme Court through the Board of Professional Responsibility. The Board of Professional Responsibility investigates lawyers that are accused of violating the ethical standards of the legal profession, which are set forth in Rule 7 of the Rules of the Supreme Court of Tennessee. A lawyer who violates the rules can be sanctioned by the Board of Professional Responsibility. The sanctions can be a private reprimand or as serious as disbarment, which means that the lawyer is prohibited for practicing law for some period of years or even life.
Lawyers and non-lawyers can file complaints with the Board about the conduct of a lawyer. The mere fact that a lawyer has had a complaint does not mean that the lawyer has done anything wrong – anyone can file a complaint about anything. Indeed, the clients of criminal defense lawyers not infrequently file complaints against their own lawyers, and people involved in divorce cases may file complaints against their spouse’s lawyers that have little basis fact. Thus, it is the substance of the complaint, not the facts of it, that is important.
You can look at the Board of Professional Responsibility website and see if a lawyer has received sanctions for violating a disciplinary rule. If you learn that your lawyer has had a disciplinary complaint filed against him or her, ask about it. If they deny it and you know it occurred, the denial says something about their integrity. If they explain what happened, use your common sense to determine whether the lawyer’s error was serious or minor or whether it is likely to happen again.
For example, some lawyers have had disciplinary complaints filed against them for not filing a lawsuit on time, with the result that the client has lost a right to bring a lawsuit. This is almost always a mistake that should not occur. However, most lawyers believe that if the lawyer readily admits the mistake, tells the truth about what occurred, and turns it over to the lawyer’s malpractice insurance carrier so that the client can be treated fairly the lawyer should not be judged too harshly. Lawyers are human, and mistakes will happen.
On the other hand, if a lawyer covers up or lies about a mistake, or makes repeated mistakes of the same type, one must question the integrity and competence of the lawyer or, at a minimum, his or her attention to detail.
You should be very concerned with a lawyer who has an extensive history of complaints found to be valid by the Board of Professional Responsibility.
12. Does the lawyer have malpractice insurance coverage?
Answer: Believe it or not, there is nothing in the law that requires lawyers to have malpractice insurance coverage. As has been explained earlier, any lawyer can make a mistake, and he or she should have malpractice insurance to protect a client from harmed by the mistake. Feel free to ask the lawyer you are thinking about hiring whether he or she has malpractice insurance coverage and ask them to confirm their answer in writing. If they don’t have it, hire a different lawyer.
Part 5 of this series will be presented tomorrow.