Before responding to a TV ad or calling a law firm straight out of the Yellow Pages, do the following:
Do not rely exclusively on lawyer advertising. A slick TV ad or a large Yellow Pages spread means nothing other than a willingness to spend money on advertising. You need to know about the actual person who will stand by your side if you have to go to court and feel confident that your lawyer has the skills to advise you.
Consult with your family lawyer or other lawyers outside the personal injury field to see whom they might recommend. Lawyers tend to know about other lawyers and their reputations.
Make a list of lawyers recommended to you by lawyers, friends or family. Having had a good experience with an experienced personal injury lawyer in the past is one of the best recommendations possible for hiring a lawyer.
With your list in hand, go onto the internet and access the Minnesota Lawyers Professional Responsibility Board. You can easily learn how long a lawyer has been practicing, whether his/her license is currently valid, and whether she/he has ever been subject to public discipline. Public discipline is a warning sign. If the lawyer has been subject to public discipline, you need to find out the whole story before considering that lawyer as your legal representative.
Martindale.com rates lawyers by contacting other lawyers for anonymous reviews. Lawyers are rated both as to ability and ethical standards. Lawyers who meet the “Very High” criteria of General Ethical Standards are rated with a “V” while professional ability is rated and graded from 1 to 5 (lowest to highest) based upon legal knowledge; creativity; judgment; communication skills, and experience in their specific area of practice(s). The ratings are aggregated to create an overall numeric rating, which includes a rating term and may include a Certification Mark:AVPreeminent TM (4.5-5.0) - highest level of professional excellence.BV DistinguishedTM (3.0-4.4) – excellent rating for a lawyer with some experience.Rated (1.0-2.9) - the lawyer has met the very high criteria of General Ethical Standing.
Avvo.com not only provides education and experience information, bar admissions, and its ratings, but goes further to contain actual comments by other lawyers and former clients which are not anonymous. The ratings are as follows: 9-10 Superb; 8-8.9 Excellent; 7-7.9 Very Good; 6-6.9 Good; 5-5.9 Average; 4-4.9 Concern; 3-3.9 Caution; 2-2.9 Strong Caution; 1-1.9 Extreme Caution.
The Minnesota Bar Association, found at mnbar.org, provides useful information, including whether the lawyer has been certified as a Certified Civil Trial Specialist. Certification means that the lawyer has been recommended by judges and peers, has tried a minimum number of trials and has demonstrated trial competency, although not necessarily in injury or death cases. There are around 275 Minnesota certified civil trial specialists. Approximately 15 practice in Southeast Minnesota. Of those 15, 6 have been nationally certified by the National Board of Trial Advocacy.
After doing your groundwork, make an appointment to talk with a lawyer. Ask him/her if he/she exclusively handles personal injury and death cases. Someone who routinely handles unrelated matters may lack the skilled staff, time, expertise, funding or other resources to adequately handle these cases. It is easy for a lawyer who does not exclusively handle these types of cases to accept and then neglect the case in favor of other matters which demand more day-to-day attention and pay more quickly.
Make sure the lawyer you are interviewing has malpractice insurance. Anyone can make a mistake and, unfortunately, lawyers are not required to carry malpractice insurance to practice law.
Ask the lawyer when he/she has had his/her most recent personal injury or wrongful death jury trial. A lawyer who has not tried a case to a jury for more than a year or so may not have current skills or may have a reputation with insurers of settling for less than full value.
Inquire as to whether the lawyer you are meeting will handle your case himself/herself through to the end or if she/he intends to hand you over to another attorney. There is no guarantee, especially in a large firm, that you will get the lawyer who is first on the masthead or the one you see in the TV ad. Meet and be satisfied with the lawyer who will actually represent you before you sign a retainer agreement.
Find out if the attorney you are meeting with typically hires an outside lawyer to do her/his trial work. Lawyers in the community tend to know about this kind of reputation. It is possible to establish a community reputation as a personal injury lawyer through advertising and then hand the case off to someone who actually is a qualified trial lawyer.
Insurers know which attorneys try cases. They know, for instance, that a lawyer who faces a possible fee split because he might have to hire someone to try his case may have a financial interest in pushing for settlement rather than a trial.
Finally, the chemistryhas to be right. All the credentials in the world mean nothing if you don’t feel comfortable with the person whom you select to represent you or your family. If you have to go to trial, you need to trust your lawyer. You must be able to rely upon her/his advice.