Finding the right lawyer to handle your case can be a frustrating process. Sure, there are plenty of lawyers who advertise on TV, in the yellow pages, and on the Internet but how do you know that they have the right experience and background to handle your case. How do you know that they are the right lawyer for you? Anyone can pay a lot of money to produce a decent looking TV ad, yellow pages spread, or website but just because they can write a check doesn’t mean they can find the courthouse or sue their way out of a paper bag.
In my opinion the best way to find the right lawyer is with the help of another lawyer.
This may sound silly but if you think about it, who knows the most lawyers in town? Another lawyer. Who is most familiar with the experience level and background of different lawyers? Another lawyer. Who sees lawyers in court regularly? Another lawyer. Who knows which lawyers work the hardest? Another lawyer. Who knows what lawyers win the most cases? Another lawyer. Who knows what lawyers specialize in what cases? Another lawyer. Ok, you get the point. I’ve been practicing law in Mobile for fifteen years and I know most of the lawyers in town and many others throughout the State of Alabama. I know the lawyers that I would want representing me or my family if I were seriously injured. There’s no reason you shouldn’t be able to have those same lawyers representing you and your family. The problem is that with so many lawyers competing for so few cases what lawyer in their right mind is going to tell you to call another lawyer when you have a good case?
This is my promise to you. After investigating your case if I believe that there is a lawyer who is more capable of obtaining a better result for you, I will refer you to that lawyer.
Why would I turn away good business? There are at least three good reasons: (1) I want you to receive the best representation possible; (2) if I am incapable of getting you the best result you would not be satisfied with my services anyway and I don’t want any dissatisfied clients; (3) lawyers, like doctors, routinely refer clients who have issues outside of their area of expertise to other lawyers in exchange for referrals or an interest in the ultimate award. The referral system works well because the client ends up represented by a lawyer with the right experience to handle their case and the referring lawyer has in incentive to make sure that happens. Another good thing about referrals is that the client gets two (or more) attorneys for the price of one. When I make a referral I prefer to stay involved in the case so I can act as a middle-man between the lawyer who is ultimately handling the case and the client— kind of like a customer service representative.
Referals are more common in complex cases that require a substantial monetary investment to pursue such as medical malpractice, products liability (airbag failing to deploy, etc.), wrongful death, and class actions. Part of the reason this is true is because although there are many good lawyers in town, some of them are not interested in gambling their hard earned money and precious time on your case. Often larger firms who are more established have the resources available to pursue expensive cases without putting as much at risk. However, the main problem with the referral system is that clients are sometimes misled or kept in the dark about the referral. Many lawyers include language in their fee agreements allowing them to refer a client to another lawyer or “associate” another lawyer or firm at their discretion. But when a referral is made without the client knowing about it up front it is like pulling the rug out from under client— especially when that client hired a lawyer thinking that lawyer would see the case through all the way to the end. Nobody appreciates a bait and switch. Don’t get me wrong— it is a good thing when a client gets referred to a lawyer who specializes in a particular matter. However, in my opinion the referring lawyer has a moral duty to disclose up front whether he or she will be personally handling the case or whether they will be referring it out or associating another lawyer or firm. The client should also have the opportunity to meet with the referral attorney and decide for themselves whether he or she is the best person for the job.
So the next time you need a lawyer you can start by watching TV, reading the yellow pages, or browsing the Internet but don’t stop there. Always ask every lawyer you are considering hiring whether they will be personally handling your case or whether they intend to refer it out. Ask them if they were in your shoes who would they hire and don’t be afraid to let them know that you are open to a referral as long as you understand why they are suggesting a particular attorney. Finally, if you need a referral to the attorney who I would use if my life or future depended upon one please feel free to give me a call. I am more than happy to listen to your situation and help you find the best lawyer for the job.
What if You Can’t Get a Referral?
If you don’t know anyone who knows an attorney there are other resources available that can get you started such as: (1) the Internet (www.martindale.com lists lawyers by location and practice area and gives a peer rating); (2) the Mobile Bar Association Lawyer Referral Service (433-1032); (3) the Connection; (4) the yellow pages; and (5) TV. The problem with using an advertisement to find a lawyer is that the ad usually doesn’t tell you anything other which attorneys have the biggest ad or spend the most money on TV commercials. Remember that there are plenty of great lawyers out there who don’t advertise because they don’t have to. The rules of ethics prohibit lawyers from comparing their legal services to that of other lawyers in advertisements. Therefore, it is important to schedule a face to face meeting with any attorney you are considering hiring to discuss your case and find out more about their experience and qualifications to handle your case. At your initial consultation you should ask the following questions:
- How many years have you been practicing law?
- How long have you been handling cases like mine?
- How many cases like mine have you handled and what is your success rate?
- Have you ever been disbarred, suspended, or disciplined by any Bar Association?
- Are you currently the subject of any Bar Association investigation or complaint?
- Do you have professional liability insurance?
- Did you graduate from an American Bar Association accredited law school?
- Did you pass the Bar Exam on your first attempt?
- How long do you expect it to take to conclude my matter?
- How much is my case worth?
- How will you keep me reasonable informed of the status of my case?
- How many cases have you tried in court? (if your case may result in litigation)
- What is your record of wins and losses in court?
- Will anyone else, such as an associate or paralegal, be working on my case?
- Will anyone other than you be appearing in court on my behalf?
- What are your legal fees based upon?
- Do you have a written representation agreement?
- What do you do for fun?
- Where do you attend church?
You should probably not hire a lawyer who:
- becomes offended or refuses to answer these questions
- does not have professional liability insurance
- has been in trouble with the Bar Association
- is not willing to explain the basis for his fee
- will not give you a written representation agreement.
You should be skeptical of any lawyer who:
- doesn’t have gray hair (I have plenty of it)
- you cannot personally get on the telephone after a few calls
- spends a lot of money on advertisements but hasn’t been practicing all that long
- runs a lot of TV ads but doesn’t want you to see his office
- did not pass the bar exam on the first attempt
- says that he can guarantee the outcome of your case
- will put a specific monetary value on your case
- promises things that you should expect anyway (like keeping you reasonable informed as to the status of your case or returning your calls)
- claims to have a perfect courtroom record
- boasts about the amount of money that he has recovered for other clients
- does not have a life away from the office
Throughout this process your goal should be to get enough information about the attorney you are considering hiring so that you feel comfortable with your decision. If you can answer “Yes” to the following questions after your interview process is over you have probably found the right attorney for you:
- Does the attorney have the background and experience to handle my case?
- Are my expectations for the case in line with those of the attorney?
- Is the attorney personable, accessible, and easy to communicate with?
- Am I comfortable that the attorney is willing to represent me to the best of his ability?