Some people I represent were referred to me by a neighbor, or friend. Often my clients are referred to me by another lawyer. It is only occasionally that my clients find me with no referral – often through our website. As a lawyer, I imagine that the analysis my clients must go through when choosing a lawyer must be similar to the analysis my wife and I go through when choosing a school for our children, or choosing a pediatrician. These choices – like choosing a lawyer – are very important choices.
First, Some Don’ts:
- Never sign paperwork from a lawyer in a hospital or “runner”. Lawyers who present paperwork to clients in hospitals or who use “runners” at hospitals are breaking several ethics laws. If they are caught – and we hope they are – they would be disbarred. You don’t want any lawyer who would do this.
- Never hire a lawyer who is “full of promises” about the money they can get you. This is a bad sign. No lawyer can guarantee what they can do for you.
Here is the advice I would give a dear friend, or member of my family about how to choose a lawyer:
1. Reputation in the Community:
Atlanta is a large city. The legal community – taken as a whole – is also large. However, within any given specialty of law and any specific practice area, there is a much smaller community of lawyers. I would not have a hard time naming the top lawyers who handle Criminal Defense in Georgia. I could just as easily name the top lawyers who handle Divorce or Custody issues. For some areas of law, I would have to reach out to lawyers I know and trust for their opinions on who the “best” are. My point is this: as big as Atlanta is, the reputations of lawyers within the community of specific practice areas for being skilled, for their ethics, for their ability to succeed on behalf of their clients, travels within a much smaller sphere. So – ask around.
- Ask any lawyers you do know (the lawyer who lives down the street, or the lawyer who handled your son’s criminal trespassing charge).
- For any lawyer you are referred to, ask them about the other lawyers you are referred to. If they are honest and ethical they will not try to “knock” other lawyers down and build themselves up, but will speak candidly with you about the ability of other lawyers they know and what they believe they can bring to your case.
- Research “review” sites on the web like AVVO. See what lawyer’s previous clients are saying about them.
2. Success in a Specific Practice Area:
Lawyer advertising (these days it is mostly web sites) would lead you to believe that every lawyer is the best, most successful, and “winningest” lawyer at trial in the State. Clearly, this can’t be true. There are two ways I know of to get past lawyer “puffing” and “bragging” and get to what the truth is about the lawyer’s expertise and success in a particular practice area. With a little research you can determine what’s behind the claims lawyers make in their advertising.
- Look to see what has been written by other sources about the lawyer. Articles by or about the lawyer in Trade Journals like The Daily Report, or Verdict Magazine are good indicators of whether the lawyer’s successes have been recognized as significant within the legal community.
- Look to see what the lawyer has written about specific issues within the law. If you have been injured in a Motorcycle Collision, see what the lawyer has written about their familiarity and experience with the specific issues in Motorcycle Collisions. If you have been diagnosed with RSD or Complex Regional Pain Syndrome, see what the lawyer has written about RSD.
3. Success at Trial:
Lawyers who never have success at trial and who settle all of their cases are never taken seriously by the Insurance Company or the lawyers for the Defense when it comes time to discuss settling the case. This is a very important truth. Although most cases settle, similar cases can settle for much less or much more money depending on the lawyer who is representing the client.
Insurance companies and Corporations are only willing to pay money to settle a case when they are afraid that a jury will force them to pay much more at trial. To put it another way, Insurance Companies want to hold onto their money. They will not pay a dollar more than they think they will have to. The only thing that convinces them to pay money to settle a case is their fear of the lawyer on the other side getting more money at trial. Our firm has a long track record of significant verdicts at trial. It is our track record of verdicts at trial that forces insurance companies to pay our clients more than they would pay other lawyers.
4. Meet the Lawyer and Trust Your Instincts:
After you have done the research in 1 – 3 above, you need to meet the lawyer and trust your instincts about whether they will fight to protect you. No client should hire a lawyer they haven’t met. And once you meet them, tal to them long enough to get a feel for whether they are listening to you, what solutions they suggest for you, and how attentive they will be to your needs. Are they able to ask all your questions? Do they seem less concerned with what you need from the meeting and more concerned with getting you to hire them? Just like you do when you meet the teachers for your child’s school to determine whether they are giving your child what they need, trust your instincts when you meet your prospective lawyer.