Choosing a lawyer for a serious injury case can be an overwhelming undertaking. Disabling injuries can put your entire future at stake. So, the choice of a lawyer can make the difference between recovering adequate compensation for your injury, or being left to pick up the pieces on your own without adequate financial resources. A recent experience underscores just how important the choice of lawyer is.
I was recently asked to take over representation for a client who had sustained a severe electrical shock while on the job. The previous lawyer had encountered some health problems, or so he claimed, and could not continue the representation. After I agreed to handle the case, I reviewed the previous attorney’s file to prepare myself for taking over the case. The file was a total mess. Not only was the file disorganized but it was apparent that the previous lawyer had no experience with electrical injuries and therefore had failed to build a case for damages. It was apparent to me that the client had sustained significant brain damage from the electric shock. However, proving brain injury from electrical shock is challenging, and the previous lawyer had done nothing to meet this challenge.
By the time I got involved in the case, several years had passed by. During that time, the previous lawyer had not conducted a thorough investigation into the events surrounding the electrocution. Further, he had delayed the case by several years without explanation, even dismissing the lawsuit at one point only to refile later. He had also filed the lawsuit in a county that is renowned for stingy verdicts, when a better venue was available. When he refiled the case after the prior dismissal, he refiled in the same county court. Since no further dismissals were allowed, he sealed the client’s fate that the case would be tried in this stingy county. Worse yet, by endlessly delaying the case and failing to properly prepare for trial, the previous lawyer had angered the trial judge. So, by the time that I assumed representation, the trial judge was openly hostile towards the client’s cause.
As I tried to make up lost ground and prepare the case for trial, I tried to overcome these various obstacles created by the previous lawyer. As we approached the settlement conference shortly before trial, I learned that the previous lawyer had procured an affidavit from a liability expert that did not accurately reflect his opinions. This was a major obstacle that could not be overcome, and we risked having the hostile trial judge exclude this expert at trial. This would have meant the end of the case. As a result, the client was forced to accept a compromised settlement.
Had I been involved in this litigation at its outset, I would have conducted a thorough investigation and obtained statements from every eyewitness while the events surrounding the injury were fresh in their minds. I would have retained quality liability and damages experts early on. Further, I would have filed suit in a favorable jurisdiction. I like to say that it is a mortal sin to be the cause of a delay in your client’s case, recognizing that some delays are inevitable and strategic considerations may even require dismissal in rare instances.
Tips for Choosing a Lawyer
How could this client have avoided being victimized by an inexperienced, unprepared lawyer? Here are a few tips to finding the right lawyer for a serious injury case:
- Look for personal recommendations for a lawyer. Oftentimes, lawyers that you know may not handle personal injury or medical malpractice cases, but they know personal injury lawyers who do. Simply going to the phone book or picking a name from an advertisement may lead to a lawyer who is in the business of making money rather than a lawyer who is in the business of fulfilling his/her professional responsibilities to their clients.
- When interviewing the lawyer, ask about their experience. How long have they been practicing as a trial lawyer? How many cases have they tried? Have they handled a case involving the specific incident that caused your injury (e.g., truck crash, electrocution, explosion, medical malpractice, etc.) and the specific type of catastrophic personal injury that you sustained (e.g., brain injury, amputation, paralysis, quadriplegia, etc.)? What are some examples of big recoveries that they have obtained for their past clients?
- Review the terms of representation. How does a contingent fee work? Who will pay expenses? What happens if there is no recovery? Do they have the financial resources to fund an expensive piece of litigation?
- Testimonials from past clients are important.
- Ask: What is the plan? I feel it is very important to explain to clients the litigation process, including how long the case should last and what to expect. I like to provide my clients with a plan of attack so that they know exactly what to expect and when to expect it. This way the client has a road map to follow and a way to see if the lawyer is fulfilling his/her professional responsibilities along the way.
- Look out for red flags. Does the lawyer return phone calls promptly? Has the lawyer obtained important documents pertaining to the litigation (e.g., medical records, police reports, photographs, incident reports, etc.)? Has the lawyer interviewed important witnesses? Has the lawyer given you a plan and stuck to it?
I genuinely hate to see a client receive poor representation, particularly when their future is in the balance. By doing a little research and asking the right questions, you should be able to avoid poor legal representation.
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