How to Choose the Right Lawyer
Choosing an attorney wisely is extremely important. You only get one chance to get it right! And if you have to change attorneys in mid-stream, the insurance company will interpret it as a sign of weakness and reduce its settlement offer.
Don’t hire an attorney in St Louis to represent you for an accident in Joplin. Why, you ask? The county where you had the accident has jurisdiction over any trials, therefore, & a trial must be held in that county. The insurance company knows that your attorney will not leave his office in St Louis, travel across the state to represent you in a week-long trial.
What Types of Attorneys are There?
Law professor Nora Engstrom’s article, "Sunshine and Settlement Mills," warns about the law firms you don’t want representing you.
Settlement Mills (lawyers that advertise excessively on television, sides of buses, and billboards, & who buy huge phone book ads) typically have poor trial records or take very few cases to trial. They will drop the client before they will take the case to court. They promise the moon and large settlements, typically they have no idea what your case is actually worth, have little medical knowledge, and ultimately poor relationships with their clients. Low settlements come quickly with this type of firm, sometimes as soon as 2 to 6 months. Settlement Mill firms work with insurance companies & settle cases with the rationale that it is better to be guaranteed a small payout than to spend time & money in a trial that might be lost.
The next tier of lawyers still focuses on settlements, not going to trial. Settlements can be below average. Their trial record is almost non-existent but they may, every now and then, go to trial. These lawyers are typically overwhelmed by large caseloads, & have poor working knowledge of medical conditions
Middle tier lawyers are reasonably selective about what cases they take. Their trial record is reasonable; it may or may not be available on their website. While a pre-litigation settlement is favored, these lawyers will go to trial, the insurance company knows that, & will be more apt to give a proper & fair settlement. Lawyers in this tier have fewer personal injury cases, advanced working knowledge of medicine, & good working knowledge of how insurance companies handle claims. It typically takes a year or longer to settle a case. They don’t need to advertise. This is likely the tier that you want to find to represent you in a personal injury case.
Upper tier law firms have higher negotiating skills, don’t take every case that walks through the door (they generally will not take a case that is valued less than $100,000), & will litigate when the insurance company won’t settle for the policy limits. They are selective of the client’s personality & the injuries have to be devastating. This tier of lawyers has trial records that intimidate the insurance companies into fair settlements for their clients.
Ask questions of attorneys before you sign with them. Interview several and ask about their trial record. Stay away from firms that you see constantly on television & on the billboard that is on every other block. If an attorney offers you his personal home number or cell number, ask yourself why. Why would he give his home number, can't you simply call his office and talk with him?