How to Choose a Lawyer – 2 Revealing Questions To Ask

how to choose a lawyerUnless you receive a referral from someone you trust, choosing a lawyer for your personal injury case can be one big crap shoot. Fancy ads or a nice office tell you more about a lawyer’s business acumen than his competence and skill as an attorney. There are plenty of “successful” attorneys out there making money hand over fist by running a “settlement mill” practice, where the individual clients do poorly, but the attorney does fine due to a “volume” business model. Asking the right questions can help you avoid these mills.

Most of the questions potential clients are encouraged to ask attorneys provide no insight into how their case will be handled or how effective the lawyer will be. Does it really matter to you where the lawyer went to law school? Some of the best litigators in the country didn’t go to a fancy law school. Does it matter if the lawyer has 10 years of experience versus 15 years of experience? 15 years of mediocrity aren’t worth more than 10 years of excellence. How about accolades from groups like SuperLawyers or the Million Dollar Advocates Forum, which are basically a popularity contest and a pay-for-praise company, respectively? Clients often feel better after asking about a lawyer’s qualifications, but most of the question they ask reveal nothing about how their cases will be handled. Here are two questions to ask which will give you information that is actually useful to choosing a lawyer.

How to Choose a Lawyer – Question #1
“When is the Last Time You Went to Trial?”

Jury trials in personal injury cases are rare, and they are becoming even more rare by the day. Don’t be surprised if the lawyer you are interviewing hasn’t been to trial in the past year or two. I would see it as a positive if he has gone to trial in the past two years, but not necessarily a negative if he hasn’t. Of course, the longer it’s been since the lawyer went to trial, the more concerning it is. If it’s been more than four years, I’d consider that a negative.

For purposes of this question, it doesn’t matter whether the lawyer actually won the case at trial. Most cases that go to trial are not sure things, and juries can be fickle. It is the willingness of the lawyer to go to trial that should interest you. Every personal injury lawyer will tell you that they are willing to take a case to trial, if necessary. Of course, actions speak louder than words — if your lawyer says that he’s willing to take your case to trial, but hasn’t tried a case in 7 years, you may want to take his claim with a grain of salt. Note that insurance companies also keep score on which lawyers try cases and which don’t. Who do you think is more likely to receive a favorable settlement offer?

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Absence from the courtroom creates anxiety about the courtroom. In other words, the longer it’s been since a lawyer went to trial, the more inclined he’ll be to settle a case rather than brush up on his rusty trial skills. Obviously, every rule has its exceptions, and there may be lawyers out there who haven’t tried a case in years, but are itching to jump back into the courtroom. I’m just saying that I’ve never met one.

After dropping this bomb of a question, you’ll want to make it clear to the lawyer that you’re not one of those crazy clients who will insist on “having his day in court” in spite of a good settlement offer. You just want to know that your lawyer won’t pressure you to take a lousy settlement offer just to avoid a trial.

How to Choose a Lawyer – Question #2
“How Many Cases Are You Currently Handling?”

Lawyers are not used to being asked this question by potential clients. However, it is not only a fair question, but one which all clients should ask when choosing a lawyer. The more cases your lawyer has, the less time he has to devote to each case — and more specifically, to your case. No matter how brilliant a lawyer may be, if he doesn’t have adequate time to devote to your case, the quality of his work will suffer. Also, overburdened lawyers are less likely to return your phone calls in a timely manner and may be more inclined to settle cases just to help clear their calendars. An overburdened lawyer can cause your lawsuit to slow to a crawl, as his calendar may be too full to timely schedule depositions, hearings and, if need be, trial.

How many cases is too much for one lawyer? Ideally, when choosing a lawyer you’d want to find one with less than 100 active cases. If your lawyer has more than 150, I’d strongly consider moving on to someone else. Of course, not all cases are created equal. Social Security cases and workers compensation cases, which many personal injury attorneys handle as well, don’t require the same amount of time or attention from a lawyer as a standard personal injury case, such as a car accident or slip and fall. These types of cases are heavy on paperwork and are usually paralegal-driven. Also, especially with Social Security cases, they lie dormant for long periods of time while waiting for a final hearing, during which time they take practically none of the lawyer’s time. So, if your lawyer says that he has 175 active cases, but 100 of them are Social Security cases, that shouldn’t cause you any real concern.

How to Choose a Lawyer — Final Thoughts

When interviewing a lawyer, make sure you are speaking with the attorney who will actually be handling your case. It does you no good to know that the partner interviewing you has 80 open cases if your case is going to be given to an associate with 200 open cases. Also, if your case is going to be handled by an associate who has little or no trial experience, you’ll want to know whether a more experienced lawyer will “first chair” (be lead counsel on) your case if it goes to trial, and you’ll want the answer to Question #1 for that lawyer.

Settlement tip

The more cases a lawyer has, and the fewer times he has gone to trial, are the best indicators of whether you are dealing with a “settlement mill.” Settlement mills are high volume law firms which almost never try cases. If they can’t settle a case, they’ll either drop the client or refer him to a firm that does try cases (for a 25% referral fee that comes out of the accepting lawyer’s fee). They also tend to settle cases for far less than they are worth. Avoid settlement mills at all cost.

The two questions I suggest are obviously not the only ones you should ask when choosing a lawyer. However, they can save you from falling prey to a settlement mill, or an overburdened lawyer who’s “a malpractice case waiting to happen.” They will also help you find a lawyer who has the time to adequately prepare your case and the willingness to take it to trial, if the need arises.

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17 Responses to How to Choose a Lawyer – 2 Revealing Questions To Ask

  1. Ennaz says:

    Dear Sir:

    A personal injury Attorney has a document his clients sign that states “power of Attorney” at the top of the page and in the body it states the client allows the attorney to “settle in comprise” as well as various additional duties. I do not understand above mentioned wording. Can the attorney settle without his client’s approval?

    Thank you for your time.

    • fl_litig8r says:

      Yes, it sounds like the power of attorney gives him full authority to settle the clients’ cases without consulting the clients, which is clearly a bad idea (for the clients). When you give someone power of attorney to handle all matters regarding your case, he has the ability to settle it for whatever amount he deems fit. I would tell anyone who signed one of these to revoke it in writing immediately. While there may be rare circumstances when giving your attorney this power would be appropriate, it should not be done as a routine practice — especially if the client is available for consultation by phone to approve or decline settlement offers. This sounds very fishy to me, and I would keep a very watchful eye on this attorney.

  2. Kenny a Po is trying to say that rter says:

    I was hit by a semi trailer and had to have 2 surgery and my lawyer been dealing with my case right at 2yrs and the adjuster made and offer for 50,000 after paying the lawyer and medical bill i will be let with 26,000 my lawyer is trying to tell me that fair i don’t think so i’m steel having problem and the doctor clearly said i lot 5% ability in my knee and i want be able play ball like i use too. do you think my settlement is worth more.

    • fl_litig8r says:

      I can’t really speak as to the specific value of your case, other than to direct you to my general article on this subject. There are just too many variables for me to make such a call over the Internet. Also, know that impairment percentages assigned to specific body parts will be higher than your “whole body impairment” percentage, which is more relevant to evaluating your case.

  3. RWims says:

    Hello, fl_litig8r:
    I have a question. My husband and I have a personal injury mold case with a former landlord. I recently learned the insurance adjuster is a “litigation specialist”. Is she an attorney? Presently we don’t have legal representation; I declined release of medical information before I discovered she was a litigation specialist. I prepared the demand letter as well without an injury amount and forwarded all the pertinent documents (medical records, pictures, property damage estimate) myself. I’m now concerned about her legal status. What is a litigation specialist?

    • fl_litig8r says:

      It’s unlikely that the adjuster is a lawyer. Most adjusters with the title “litigation specialist” just deal with claims that are in or expected to go to litigation. While some insurers have in-house attorneys, even those that do tend to defend lawsuits using independent law firms. The litigation specialist is likely just the adjuster who would deal directly with outside counsel, and has experience overseeing such matters. Unless there’s an “Esq.” after the adjuster’s name, I’d bet that she isn’t a lawyer. You could always check by visiting the website of the state bar where she is located. All of the bar sites I know of have an attorney search feature — just plug her name in and see if she shows up.

      Your other comment, which mostly duplicated this one (when comments are being moderated, sometimes people think they’ve disappeared — usually it’s just that you went to another computer that doesn’t have the cookie that lets you see your pending comment), also asked about consulting with a lawyer. I would definitely recommend at least getting a free consultation with a lawyer before going any further. Mold claims aren’t exactly as straight-forward as slip & falls or car accidents (which themselves can get pretty complicated). There’s likely to be some complex issues regarding causation and possibly a war among experts as to whether the mold was of the toxic variety. You could wait for their initial response to your demand, but I wouldn’t get my hopes up about them being reasonable until you have a lawyer.

      • RWims says:

        Thank you. No her name does not have Esq after it. We live in Florida so I will look on the Florida bar website to see if she is listed as an attorney. We also sent her the laboratory report which confirmed the high level of Asperg mold in the residence. Thanks again!

  4. Tee says:

    I had Stress Urinary Incontinance surgery 2010, had issues for approx. a year or so after and returning of all my symptoms with severe groin and pelvic pain with infections, then on 9-19-11, I pulled a one inch piece of plastic out of my private area, I hired an attorney after the surgeon threw me out of his office, this attorney promished me allot and gave me nothing, wasted my SOL to sue the surgeon and dropped my case. I then was referred to a MDL lead steering committee attorney for a product liability case, this was 2012, now my case was put into a tolling agreement for the SOL and the manufacturer has agreed to settle their 1010 cases. I asked my tvm team leader (legal secretary) how many cases with this manufacturer they had with my firm and was told they could not tell me that. I have had five surgeries since the migration of the foreign body implanted into me with out my knowledge or choice. I cannot get a straight answer from my lawyer accept they are in settlement discussion with all the manufacturers clients and the tvm team leader (secretary) got angry with a strong email I wrote trying to find out where my case was and when would the manufacturer settle, she then said to me that she was concerned for my emotional well being and it could take years. The internet is all I have to learn about my case at the Judges’ website for mdls in 130,000 tort cases there. Also, I had to use legal funding to have the broken implant removed and that was initially 15,000 but triples each year, so each year my firm does not settle the less money I will end up with if any, what can I do? I was screwed by my first attorney and now I have pissed off the secretary will they stall me out of nothing. I still have much pain upon exertion but just had fifth surgery to improve the SUI, repeat. I have had some improvment to the point the GYN is done but I have nerve damage and still have not reached MMI and I have liens from VR and legal funding growing every day, any suggestions? I need to hold the surgeon that implanted me accountable but I am told my SOL is over for that but I was cheated out of that by the attorney that I hired and that attorney quit the firm and did not even tell me I had to find out on my own and within 90 days of my medical mal SOL being at deadline they sent the piece back and dropped my mm case. Now, I am afraid of this happening again with the product liability and personal injury case. I need honest answers and sound suggestions please sir. Thank you so much for your website. I was so pleased reading your answers and your desire to help us laymen and laywoman.

    • fl_litig8r says:

      I think you may be carrying some baggage from your bad experience with your first lawyer over to your relationship with the new lawyer. MDL cases, by nature, will proceed much more slowly than an individual lawsuit because they involve so many lawyers. While settlement negotiations are an ongoing process in these cases, discovery and other simple procedural matters like motion practice become much more time consuming, so you shouldn’t expect a quick resolution or that your case will receive special consideration above any of the others in the MDL group. Asking when your case will settle is probably a question that your lawyer just can’t answer at this time, no matter how vigorously you ask the question. I know it’s not easy to be patient when you have something like a lawsuit loan hanging over your head, but your lawyer has very little control over how quickly the defendant will make a reasonable offer, and because this is an MDL case, he doesn’t have the same ability to apply pressure through litigation as he would if you were an individual case. Getting frustrated and writing a nasty e-mail to the paralegal isn’t going to make things move along any faster.

      With respect to your med mal case, I wouldn’t get my hopes up about any possibility of a legal malpractice case against the first lawyer. If he dropped your case while you still had about 90 days left on the SOL, I can’t see any court calling that malpractice. Even if it was 30 days I couldn’t see it happening. Usually, the lawyer either has to miss the SOL while he still has the case or abandon the case with such little time left on the SOL (like a few days) that the client has no chance of retaining other counsel for it to be malpractice (and it would probably be contestable in the cases where he withdrew with a few days left). In any event, if you’re planning on doing anything with that, you should already be contacting lawyers, because the SOL for that claim will likely be the same amount of time as you had for the med mal claim, running from the time your lawyer allegedly committed malpractice.

      • Tee says:

        Thank you for your input. I think I may have gave the wrong impression or information. I did not write a nasty email. I did not mean to make it sound as if I had acted in any unfavorable way.

        I just am a lay person with no experience in a civil suit such as this. I am very inquisitive and I did obsess a bit at first. Yes, your spot on with the baggage being brought over from the bad experience. That is why I wrote an apology email when this dawned on me.

        The team with my firm are very professional and they listen with heart. I just asked normal questions like, why my manufacturer is not listed on their website or in update letters, and, why do I read all over the internet that my manufacturer is settling some of the lawsuits and this was stated back in January 14. I have not been contacted about any talks to settle. What I read from reputable sources do not match what I am seeing and hearing from my firm. It caused me to doubt a bit.

        I am focusing on my health which is my main priority. However, all of the TVM victims need justice. We need justice! A huge majority including myself will live with pieces of mesh that could not be removed and chronic life long pain and sexual dysfunction. Our life is never going to be the same as it was. I can say this because my life was disrupted and I was left to my own accord to figure out how to save my own life. I am naive green horn when it comes to discerning whether I am getting bullied through the process or I am in a legal Mill type situation where the firm and advances get paid and I have not reached maximum medical improvement and get pennies as justice. This is my fear and the reason I needed some advice.

        Thank you for your service. I hope I did not cross the line or hurt myself by this move but I feel so alone in my fight for my health and justice to be served. Its very nice having someone to care. Honestly, I never asked for this to happen, none of us did. I don’t care about suing the doctor or legal malpractice, I just need this to be justified and made better. Nothing will ever be right again for my marriage or my body. No amount of money can give back what he and I have lost but it sure would help take the pressures of the whole thing to a manageable level.

        I just want to be treated with ethical integrity. I want to be shown the respect we all deserve from this terrible injustice. Its hard to trust after you trusted completely and got the shaft. That is just one more damaging symptom of this mesh.

        Keep up the great work!

  5. Medsinjustice says:

    I recently, lost my Mother, on December 1st, of 2013. She went into a rehab. place, when she fell, and hit her foot, in her home. She fractured, the top, of her foot, and couldn’t bear weight, on it. I had to go to court, to be their, for my son’t trial, who was killed, by a drunk driver. It took, 3 years, to go to court. I called, my Mother, the week, before the trial, and told her, I was coming down. She lived in a retirement village, in Florida. She had just been in the rehab. for one to two weeks. I was packed, and ready to go. She demanded, that I wait, because, she said, she would be getting out, on Dec. 8th, 2013. I basically, was told, not to come, “she was extremely insistant”. I gave in, and waited. She did have a mild heart attack, 2 years, prior. She had a mild leaky valve, that she kept, well, under control. Basically, she went in, with a fractured foot, and came out, with septic shock, and her stomach, looked like she was pregnant, and her legs, were so swollen, they looked, like cellulitis. My Mother, called me, personally, while I was in court, and told me she was having swelling, in her legs. I immediately, got on the phone, with the nurse, on duty. He said, that “their” doctors, were addressing the issue, themselves, and changed some of her medicines around. I told him, to get her to her cardiologist, asap. They never called, me, or my brother, to let us know, she was in trouble. I went down there, literally, straight from my son’s trial, to Florida, and when I saw her, I knew there was something terribly wrong. Her mind wasn’t quite right, she was confused, and that was NOT, my Mother. I took her to her doctor, and they said, these people, should have taken her to the emergency room, a week prior. So, 911 was called, and I followed them to the hospital, waited for 3 hours, for a room. She went to ICU, and that’s when I found out, about the sepsis. Since, that wasn’t addressed, they had to treat her for that, first. Her swelling, had gotten so bad, it put her into, congestive heart failure. I was there, for 12 to 13 days, or so, and watched her go downhill, very fast. Due to the neglect, she didn’t have a chance. She died, after going to hospice, for only 2 days. I have contacted, 3 lawyers, and the first 2, had the courtesy, to call me, and not waste time. This last, person, took a month, to “mail” me, a letter, stating they could not take on the case, but that didn’t mean, I didn’t have a case. They advised, me to get a second opinion, as to the SOL. I have asked, over, and over, what the SOL, is, for this kind of case. I get the same answer, they won’t tell me why, only that, they can’t, and won’t tell me, what the reason, is. This, is a new, fancy place, “rehab. center”. I had no reason, to think, she wasn’t being looked after, properly. I was dead wrong. I called, my brother, and he came, thank goodness, or he wouldn’t have been able to say goodbye. If, I hadn’t gotten there, when I did, the sepsis, would have killed her. After, given antibiotics, her memory, came back the very next morning. It was, like a lightbulb, being turned on. The place “rehab” was understaffed, and the nurse, in charge, acted, extremely, guilty, which I didn’t expect, when, I asked, how long, she had been talking with confusion. I didn’t pick up, on it, over the phone, other, than she was very anxious, to get out of there, and go home. She wanted to live. If she, had the care, in advance, “at the hospital”, when they first saw the swelling, etc. , I know, she would, still, be with us. This was a clear case, of neglect. So, again, I ask, when a lawyer, waits, so long, to get back with me, “why”? How, do I pursue, and take up for my Mother’s life, when no one, will expain, to me, why they, won’t take on this case. Why, can’t I find, out the SUL, if they won’t tell me? I go, from losing my son, after, 3 years, of waiting, to only find out, my Mother, has been neglected. I would have gone there, regardless, if I had known, she was not being taken care of properly. Please, advise, me, as to what, if anything, I can do. A lot, of time, has been wasted, when, This lawyers office, didn’t bother to get back with me, in a timely manner. And, I still don’t have the answers, that I need..I was told, by a local, lawyer, that I had a case, so what’s the problem? Please help..

    • fl_litig8r says:

      In Florida, the statute of limitations for both medical malpractice and wrongful death is 2 years. The reason so many lawyers are reluctant to tell you your specific statute of limitations for this case is because there are other factors that can affect the 2 year periods, and they don’t want to spend the time examining all of those for a case they aren’t going to take — and they don’t want to just tell you “two years” and have you sue them later because one of those other factors came into play. To be safe, you should assume that the 2 years runs from the date she entered the rehab (though it’s likely a little longer than that for both possible claims).

      I can’t say why you are having such difficulty finding a lawyer to take your case. It could be any number of reasons. You should focus your search on medical malpractice lawyers, though. While other personal injury attorneys may advertise that they do wrongful death cases, because your case involves medical malpractice issues it is unlikely that any firm other than one specializing in med mal will want to take it on.

      You shouldn’t give up on finding a lawyer just because three firms have turned you down. There are plenty of med mal firms all over Florida, so keep calling until you find one that will either take your case or explain to you why no firms are interested in it. I wouldn’t put too much faith in your local lawyer’s opinion that you have a good case if he’s not willing to take it himself. While you may actually have a good case, such an opinion given to you by a lawyer not willing to represent you in that case is worthless.

  6. rurede4him says:

    Ok, well I wasn’t in a right frame of mental capacity at the time of hiring an attorney and depended on others to make that choice for me, which ended up not being in my best interest. My case is simple but difficult in its own ways. I was hoping to maybe discuss over the phone as it is quite difficult to explain via your site.

    My biggest concern and need to address is: during a prehearing it was determined that a forensic investigator report/testimony required by subpoena should be given, opposing attorney tried to quash testimony, as it could determine exposure as chronic and not just acute. The investigator fled town, not submitting or giving deposition and my attorney opted to not pursue (not discussing his decision with me) Now it is many months later, I am becoming more and more aware of its importance in obtaining this report/deposition and don’t know what to do. Finding another attorney has proved to be pointless, I am left to clean up this mess on my own and finding it difficult to piece everything together (physically, and mentally due to injury) Please, please, consider contacting via email and perhaps we can discuss further. I am confused, lost, and insurance lawyers are eating me for their lunch and dinner. Blessings

    • fl_litig8r says:

      I’m sorry, but I don’t do individual consultations with visitors to this site, either by phone or e-mail. I really can’t adequately address your issue as it’s described right now, because I don’t even know what type of case you’re talking about. When you say “forensic investigator” I don’t know whether you mean a public servant or a private expert witness, or why it is so difficult to locate this person. You say he “fled town”, but I have no idea why you call it fleeing rather than just moving. It may be that your lawyer doesn’t consider a person this reluctant to testify to be worth pursuing. Trying to subpoena someone out of state in a non-federal case is a lot more involved than you think. You practically have to file a mini-lawsuit in the new state to ask them to issue the subpoena. You’re talking about a significant investment of time and energy to take the testimony of someone who probably will give the minimum amount of cooperation needed to avoid a contempt order, if he decides to show up after being subpoenaed at all.

      This is something you really need to work out with your current lawyer. Don’t burn that relationship, because as you’ve already discovered, it’s incredibly difficult to find another lawyer to take over a case that’s already in progress.

  7. rurede4him says:

    The attorney has already been released, and yes finding another attorney has proven to be difficult. When a person asks from their attorney for their file and records (one might assume) that they are complete….well, I have found out what “assume” made out of me, especially when it was sent to other attorneys for review for consideration of taking the case, without checking its contents first.

    The investigator was hired (by one of the two opposing insurance companies) to inspect a piece of faulty equipment. He fled town (to go fishing, in state) the night before his deposition, plainly in defiance. He is hiding behind the hiring insurance company, the subpoena was issued and upheld, he just failed to comply.

    The significance of exposure, chronic versus acute, is the information they are trying to keep from coming to light. It would be very damning for the other side and his refusal to provide the testimony or results, leads me to believe that I was right all along. It was leaking months before it exploded. They are trying to save their behinds in whatever way they can, and my previous lawyer (not having done one single case like mine) (hired by the other incompetent attorney) didn’t protect my right to have an informed hearing by pursuing his deposition already ordered by the court. The opposing side, has ever detailed history, mental, physical, personal, taxable, etc that could be given or obtained about me and even though I could have asked for protection order, I just consented, I had nothing to hide.

    Why am I not allowed, expected, and given the same courtesy from the other side? While this situation is really disheartening, myself and someone I love dearly have suffered in many ways, lost everything but the clothes on our back and a few important papers, but we are alive (we could have died, in the accident) we still hold on to the belief that truth will prevail and find comfort in the word of GOD. I didnt consider suing, I figure we are all human and mistakes happen, just admit and accept responsibility that is yours to accept, help in whatever way is necessary and move on…boy was I wrong. I have not been in a right frame of mind (injury induce), I don’t believe I was listened to, or given explanations that I could reasonably understand & retain and it seems as though everything from medical terminology on medical reports to legal proceedings has been smoke and mirrors. I hope you will reconsider…

    (My momma told me “there is your side, their side and then the truth, that truth stands on its own, but it can be swayed by ones perspective”) how very true!!!

    • fl_litig8r says:

      I assume that you’re venting and not really asking me why the other side behaves as it does. I’m sorry to hear that you already dissolved your relationship with your lawyer. No matter what you may have thought of his abilities, having a bad lawyer is better than having no lawyer 99% of the time, and now you may not be able to make any recovery at all unless you eventually find new counsel. Your case sounds a lot more complicated than your typical car accident or slip and fall, which themselves are beyond the capabilities of most lay people to litigate. I would strongly advise putting your efforts into finding a new lawyer, despite your failed prior attempts, rather than trying to litigate this case on your own.

  8. shelley says:

    Hi I am wondering if anyone has any advice on a good family lawyer, one that defends parents against the MCFD in Vernon, BC. I think it’s so unfair that the Ministry has one of the top firms working for them yet most parents due to finances have to go with legal aid. When in fact legal aid lawyer are handling so many cases at once and are only covered for 20 lousy hours per case, it seems so unfair that so many good parents end up losing when they are fighting for the most valuable thing one can fight for their family. All due to the fact we can’t afford a high powered attorney, shouldn’t it at least be a fair fighting ground they are our children. We should be given the same courtsey that MCFD has and be provided a lawyer who wants and has the time to fight for the parents and will fight just as hard as their lawyer because they are being paid adequately enough, and not over loaded with clients. Who agrees with me?

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