First and foremost, it is important that you consider experience.
Many people assume that all attorneys have experience in trial-related matters. In fact, the vast majority of attorneys haven’t seen the inside of a courtroom since they were sworn in. In both criminal defense and personal injury matters, you absolutely need to have an experienced trial attorney. While personal injury cases don’t necessarily require an attorney to go to court, it requires an attorney to be prepared to take the case to court. It will be a challenge to find an attorney in our area who has handled more trial-related matters than Mr. Witt. He is an extremely experienced trial attorney.
If you are researching other attorneys, there are certain relevant questions you should ask of that person regarding their ability.
How many cases have you tried before a jury?
Making legal arguments before a judge is very different than a jury trial. An attorney who practices in the area of personal injury or criminal defense should have done dozens of jury trials if they consider themselves experienced in this area. Insurance companies make themselves familiar with attorneys who are willing to take a case to trial. It is riskier and more costly for the insurance company to push an attorney they know will take a case to trial for their client.
How many cases have you tried and reached a verdict before a jury?
Sometimes, an attorney will settle a case even before a jury is empaneled. They never make opening and closing statements to a jury or present evidence. It is important to distinguish an attorney who has actual trial experience from those who have not made arguments before a jury.
If the attorney has gone to trial, what “chair” were they in the trial?
In trials where there are multiple attorneys, there will be a “first chair” attorney who makes the tactical decisions and is considered the most experienced. A “second chair” may only be in trial for support and make only an opening statement or examine one witness. They might be responsible for legal research. While legal research is important, it is not equivalent to being a trial attorney.
Just as there is no substitute for preparation, there is no substitute for experience. Research your options and make trial experience a considerable factor. Hopefully, your case never needs to be presented to a jury but your attorney should be prepared to take that step.
In addition to evaluating the experience of your attorney, you should consider whether a firm is client-focused.
Can you speak to your attorney or are you directed to his or her paralegal? Do you have your attorney’s cell phone number? Are you kept up to date on your case? How you feel throughout your case is critical. Whether it’s a criminal defense matter or a personal injury case, most clients feel extremely stressed. Many report that the process is overwhelming. Consider how available your attorney is to you when you have a question or concern. Often, big firms are very good at listening to you during a free consultation but not so great at answering the phone once you sign up to be a client. You become their paralegal’s client. Criminal defense cases and personal injury cases often take months to resolve and you need to assess whether a firm can support you emotionally as well as legally.
Finally, consider how the process can differ based on the philosophy and practice of certain firms.
Small firms, like ours, typically take a client-centered approach to managing cases. The attorney spends a great deal of time working with the client and discussing the case in person or over the phone. For us, there is no push for billable hours or meeting quotas. If your case takes 20 hours or 100 hours to prepare, you are treated with the same attention and commitment.
Avoid the Mills
There are some firms that commit a great deal of money to advertising but do not make the same commitment to client attention. We refer to these places as mills. They receive a large number of referrals from chiropractors in the area so they churn clients through like a mill. In the end, the attorney gets paid, the chiropractor or medical professional gets paid, and the client typically ends up with little or nothing. For example, if you have a soft tissue injury and you end up with $20,000 in medical bills, your $30,000 settlement might end up with $10,000 to the attorney (33%) and the remaining portion used for subrogation to the insurance company to cover the $20,000 in bills. It’s your injury, but you will be the last to be compensated. The attorney won’t care if you’re unhappy because the professional referrals keep coming. They don’t need your personal referral.
We don’t consider the “mill method” fair. The client is our highest priority, not the treatment provider. At the Witt Law Group, if we ask a provider to reduce their fees, we consider it only fair to reduce ours as well. We are not in the business of getting paid more than our clients. In the end, the injured person should always end up with a reimbursement for their injuries. In our firm, the personal referral is the greatest compliment we can receive. We work hard to get you the best settlement but also to earn your trust to recommend our firm for your friends and family.