Smart clients want some measurable data to decide who is the “best” when they choose an attorney. Lawyers often boast about the amount of money recovered for clients. You won’t see me on a billboard boasting about winning, and I rarely report settlements to the newspapers. I think these numbers are misleading at best.
For the record, my firm represents clients with all levels of injury and damage. In my almost three decades of practice, I have recovered amounts ranging from $2,000 to $2,000,000 for clients, with total verdicts and settlements in the neighborhood of $100 million. I have picked over 100 juries and have been successful for clients over 99% of the time. I have tried cases in several state and federal courts, all of the Missouri courts of Appeals, the Missouri Supreme court and the Division of Workers’ compensation. I am board certified, a member of The American Board of Trial Advocates and graduated from the Gerry Spence Trial Lawyers’ College.
Here is why the numbers don’t matter when choosing a lawyer:
- Verdict and settlement size are misleading: There is an old saying among trial lawyers: the best way to get a million dollar verdict is to mess up a 5 million dollar case. A successful lawyer recovers all of the client’s losses, and knowing the amount of a settlement or verdict doesn’t begin to tell the story.
- Winning or losing at trial doesn’t indicate skill: Most cases don’t go to trial, and only the most difficult or disputed matters ever get to a jury. Insurance companies settle the cases where they have the most problems leaving victims to go to trial on only the harder cases. A trial lawyer who never loses either doesn’t try many cases or avoids the difficult ones. The best lawyers are willing to go to trial if a fair settlement can’t be reached and would rather lose than sell out the client.
- Past performance doesn’t guarantee future results: Every investment product, whether stock or mutual fund, disclaims past performance as an indicator of future results, and lawyers should too. Personal injury cases are just that- personal. No two cases are alike and no two injuries are identical. A lawyer who is devoted to continuing to develop his or her skills and fight for clients, with a trial if necessary is the best bet for a fair resolution to a case.
If the numbers don’t matter, how can a client choose the right lawyer?
- Look for experience and real credentials: Graduation from a good law school can indicate that a lawyer is smart, but some of the best trial lawyers don’t have that on their resume. Young lawyers can also be very good as age does not indicate talent. Picking a lawyer involves playing the odds to some extent as a client must ultimately rely on available data. A lawyer that has stayed in practice for a long time has learned to be successful for clients in ways that don’t come from law school. However, a lawyer who has practiced for twenty years but never represented an injury victim has less real experience than a lawyer with half that time in practice only representing injury victims. Board certification is not required to retain a law license, nor is extensive specialty training. However, a lawyer who attains extra credentials is dedicated to the profession above that which is required to merely practice law. It can be confusing as some awards and honor designations require nothing more than sending in a check! The right credentials and experience are a reliable indicator of a lawyer’s skill and dedication, and a client’s best bet for success.
- Find a good fit: Having even the most skilled and dedicated lawyer is not enough if you aren’t treated well! Too many lawyers see their profession as a business and treat clients like nothing more than a route to a paycheck. Other times, personalities don’t mix well and a client never really likes or trusts the attorney. Once a client finds a qualified lawyer, the next step is to talk to the people at the law office and the lawyer. Most folks know whether they feel comfortable with a law firm within fifteen minutes of talking with them or reading about the firm’s philosophy. Hiring a lawfirm without knowing who YOUR lawyer truly is leads to disappointment.
- Read reviews and do research: Advertisements only tell you what the lawyer says about himself. There are multiple places to see what actual clients experienced with a lawyer- AVVO.com, Martindale.com, or Google reviews for example. The Better Business Bureau isn’t a great resource to research an attorney as few lawyers are members, and the BBB exists to resolve complaints, not compile reviews. Human nature is to complain quicker than to praise of course, but if there are enough reviews on a lawyer, a perspective client can see trends and at least know what questions to ask if there are concerns. Be wary of a lawyer with no reviews or data that you can research.
It would be great if a client could look up statistics and numbers and select the perfect attorney. Unfortunately, it isn’t that simple. Nothing important ever is!