Having to find a lawyer is stressful. While major businesses and insurance companies may have a harem of corporate lawyers on retainer at all times, working people do not have that luxury. Most of my clients are facing a family emergency when they need to find a lawyer. They've never hired a lawyer before, and don't know where to begin. Making a rushed or rash decision can have devastating consequences, so it is critical that you do your homework before finding a lawyer. Below are some do's and don'ts if you are facing this situation.
Very few T.V. lawyers are actually what we would call "case handling" lawyers. They are advertisers. Most of the T.V. lawyers will either be looking to refer your case to a lawyer who will actually handle the case. The T.V. lawyer will keep a percentage of the fee, and often will do nothing other than refer your case on to someone else. And that's if you are lucky. Too often the T.V. lawyers will follow a "stack them high and sell them cheap" method where your case becomes one of many, you are given virtually no personal attention, and the T.V. lawyer does not achieve full value for your case because they simply want to settle it quickly for whatever they can get. This may be the quickest way to find a lawyer, but its almost never the best way.
Most accomplished lawyers will be prominent on the internet, and not just from their own firm website. A law firm website is a great starting point, since it will give you a good feel for the firm, its specialties and accomplishments. Once you find a firm you think is right, though, google them and see what else shows up on the internet. Law firms that have achieved significant jury verdicts, had newsworthy cases and have lawyers active and prominent in the community will be all over the internet, and you can learn quite a bit from their internet presence. By the same token, if you cannot find the firm on the internet, or perhaps can only find their own website, that indicates that they may not be quite as active or specialized as they boast in their advertisements. In other words, don't just take the lawyer's word about his accomplishments and specialties, see what your research shows based on what other people and other websites say about the lawyer
All lawyers are not the same, and usually the good ones specialize in certain areas. If you need a Jones Act maritime lawyer, make sure you find a lawyer that regularly practices in that area. Ask questions: how many Jones Act cases have you handled? How many maritime cases have you tried? Have you ever tried an offshore helicopter crash case? What is your experience in handling bad faith cases? How many Hurricane Ike lawsuits does your firm handle? You get the picture. You wouldn't see a skin doctor for a spine injury, and you shouldn't hire a car wreck lawyer for a specialized Jones Act, bad faith or military contractor claim case. If your lawyer is not experienced in the area, he or she may not be able to acheive full value for your case, and in fact may make mistakes that can seriously harm your case. So, make sure your lawyer knows what he or she is doing in the specialty that you need.
Lots of lawyers call themselves "trial lawyers" and may even advertise that they are aggressive junkyard dog trial machines who will hammer their opponents into big, bad settlements. Be wary of those who boast how tough they are and their many successes settling cases. Many of these characters don't know where to find the courthouse, much less what to do inside of it. What you need to do is find out the lawyer's actual, practical experience. Ask if the lawyer is board certified in an area. Board Certification means that the lawyer actually has tried a certain number of cases, and passed a test not much different from a bar examination in a particular area of law. Ask the lawyer how many verdicts they've had, and what their results were in actual trials (not just settlements). Don't be fooled by flashy advertisements and promises. Lawsuits are serious stuff, and you need someone who can get you safely through what will almost certainly be one of the most challenging times of your life.
Hands down, the best recommendations a lawyer can get is from a former client. If the lawyer has done a good job for his or her clients, the former client will tell you so. When you are interviewing a lawyer, either in person or by phone, ask they if you can speak with some of their former clients. The good ones will be happy to give you a list!
You should only hire a lawyer with whom you are comfortable. You will be spending quite a bit of time together, for probably one to two years. You need to be able to both trust and like your lawyer. You need to be comfortable with his or her staff, including the legal assistants that will be working on your case. When you go to the lawyers office for the first time to interview and meet the lawyer, don't feel rushed. If they push you to sign the paperwork right then, be careful and be wary, and don't do so until you are ready. Once you sign the paperwork, you are agreeing to spend a good time of time with a lawyer and his staff, and you are assigning them a percentage of your case recovery as a fee. So, take your time, get comfortable and make sure all your questions are answered first.
Lawsuits are not fun, and they are not usually that quick. You will be going through a very personal experience, and one that will take usually one to two years. Your family's future financial security depends in large part on your selection of a lawyer at this challenging time, so be careful, do your homework, and chose well.