This is Part 5 of a 6-part series on what you look for in Tennessee personal injury or wrongful death lawyer. Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 and Part 4 of the series discuss twelve factors we believe that you should consider when making this important decision.
13. What is the size of the lawyer’s caseload?
Answer: Lawyers maintain different numbers of cases, and their ability to do so is dependent on several factors. First, the type of case is a very relevant. One lawyer can able do very competent, timely work on 75 or 100 worker’s compensation cases at one time if he or she has well-trained support staff. One lawyer would have a very difficult time working doing very competent, timely work on ten medical malpractices cases on behalf of the patient at one time, even if he or she has well-trained support staff.
Thus, a consumer should inquire about the lawyer’s caseload and case-mix (the type of cases) in an effort to determine whether the lawyer will be able to give the consumer’s case the attention it deserves. To be sure, it will be difficult for the consumer to evaluate the answers to these questions, but the way the lawyer responds to these questions will give the consumer a better understanding of the lawyer’s practice and personality.
14. Does the lawyer have the ability to finance the litigation appropriately?
Answer: As discussed in more detail in another Law Offices of John Day, P.C. Legal Guide, the litigation of certain types of personal injury and wrongful death cases, particularly medical malpractice, products liability, and tractor-truck cases, can be very expensive. A lawyer who accepts those cases for consumers must have the financial ability to advance money for those expenses because most consumers are unable to do so. Some lawyers are very under-capitalized, i.e., they lack the ability to adequately finance a case to completion. The lack of financial resources can affect the outcome of the case, because the lack of financial resources can impact the quality of expert witnesses the lawyer employs to assist in the case, the number of expert witnesses, the number of depositions that are taken (court reporters are paid to transcribe depositions, and they are expensive), the quality of demonstrative exhibits at trial, etc.
So how does a consumer evaluate this factor? It is very difficult. Most lawyers will not turn over their balance sheets to prove to you that they have the financial resources to finance the case. One way a client can gain information about this issue is by determining if the lawyer is asking the client to borrow money or pay interest on the money the lawyer borrows to finance case expenses. This indicates one of two things: either the lawyer lacks the ability to finance the case, or the lawyer has the ability to do so but is shifting the cost of financing case expenses to the client (which increases the total cost of hiring that lawyer and increases the lawyer’s profit). If a lawyer asks you to borrow money to finance the case, make sure you understand the total cost of borrowing. Many of the companies who do financing for lawyers have charges in addition to interest that greatly increase the effective interest rate charged to the client.
Once again, the consumer must ask why they would hire a lawyer who refuses or lacks the ability to finance a case when there are highly-regarded lawyers who do not do so.
15. What is the personality of the lawyer?
Answer: Lawyers are people (really!) and have different personalities. There are some inaccuracies in every generalization, but most lawyers would agree that lawyers who successfully try personal injury and wrongful death cases tend to more aggressive than passive, more self-confident (or perhaps even arrogant) than unusually humble, and better communicators than certain other types of lawyers. Frankly, lawyers who lack self-confidence do not belong in courtrooms.
Thus, before you hire a lawyer you need to meet the lawyer. Do not rely solely on a commercial or a website description of the lawyer or the lawyer’s firm. Sit down and talk with the lawyer, preferably in the lawyer’s office, and try to figure out if (a) the lawyer is the type of person you want to work with during the pendency of your case; and (b) the lawyer is the type of person you want as your advocate before a jury if your case has to be tried? Use your common sense in making this decision, considering all of the other factors that are mentioned above.
Why do we recommend meeting the lawyer in his or her office? It has nothing to do with the convenience of the lawyer. A lawyer’s office may provide valuable information about the lawyer. Does it appear well-organized? Is it clean? Does it present a professional appearance? Are you treated with respect by other employees of the firm? Does the lawyer meet with you at the appointed time? Is he or she prepared for the meeting? Are you given the opportunity to ask questions? Are those questions answered in language you can understand?
This is not to say that a lawyer needs to have a fancy office in a fancy building to be a good lawyer. Indeed, a fancy office may just be a sign that the lawyer spends money on material things that make it appear that he or she is knowledgeable and successful when the reality is quite different. That being said, the appearance of a lawyer’s office says something about the lawyer.
Many lawyers offer to visit with you at your home or even if the hospital if your circumstances are such that you cannot come to their office. This is often an offer made for your convenience, and should be viewed as such. However, unless you or a trusted loved one has researched the other factors on this list carefully before a home or hospital visit by a lawyer, most lawyers would recommend that you not to hire a lawyer simply because he or she advertises or offers to visit with you at your home or at the hospital.
You should also pay careful attention to whether and how the lawyer explains the law and what he or she will do to investigate your case. Your lawyer should be able to articulate the law to you in words you understand. If the lawyer cannot do so you will understandably question whether he or she will be able to articulate your position before a jury. You should ask the lawyer questions about anything you do not understand, and if the lawyer will not take the time to answer your questions, or does an inadequate job of answering them, you need to be concerned. Communication is a key part of the attorney client relationship, and a lawyer who cannot communicate effectively at the initial client meeting may have difficulty communicating with you as the case progresses and difficulty communicating with a judge or jury.
You should also be very wary of a lawyer who offers only positive thoughts about your case. This is a difficult thing for some people to understand, but excellent lawyers strive to be objective during their conversations with their clients. That is, these lawyers understand that it is their job to learn, evaluate and communicate the strengths and weaknesses of every case, and not just tell the client or potential client what they want to hear. Almost every case has a weakness, and the lawyer should be able to articulate those the weaknesses in a case very early based on the information that is available. You want to know about both the strengths and weaknesses of your case because both impact the value of your case. A lawyer who does not discuss case weaknesses either does not recognize them or is afraid of hurting the client’s feelings by having an open and honest discussion about the case. Excellent lawyers know that such conversations are an essential part of the attorney-client relationship, and know how to communicate their concerns without offending the client.
In summary, you want a lawyer who will be your effective advocate, but you also want one who can recognize and appropriate handle any negative aspects of your case. You also want a lawyer to tell you the truth about the positive and negative aspects of your case so that you have a full understanding of what is necessary to win your case and how any negative aspects of the case will affect your ability to do so. Finally, you want a lawyer who has compassion for your situation, the ability to communicate the law to you, and a professional appearance.
The final part of this series will be available tomorrow.