(As published in Shasta Business Journal)
It’s a constant source of amazement to me (and bewilderment) hearing how the average individual decides which attorney or even which doctor to hire.
Often, it is no more than an advertisement on TV or a glaring, boastful sign stuck on the back of a taxicab or telephone book that makes the difference. How often do you hear someone say, “well he’s such a nice person” or “he looks so distinguished” as an explanation as to why they chose a particular doctor or attorney.
As in medicine, if you have a legal problem, you want to get the attorney that specializes or restricts his practice to the specific area of your problem. If you were going to have back surgery, you would want THE doctor that does more of that type of surgery successfully than any other doctor around.
Likewise, if you have a personal injury case, you want an attorney or firm that specializes its practice in personal injury work. Now that’s not the same as saying “handles” a lot of personal injury cases. Handling a case or representing thousands of clients can simply mean that the attorney settles the cases quickly and cheaply rather than actually take any of them to a jury trial. Indeed, the majority of so-called personal injury attorneys have NEVER HAD A JURY TRIAL or very few of them. Beware of the attorney that advertises a multitude of areas of practice.
Why is extensive and successful JURY TRIAL EXPERIENCE important to you? Simply because the insurance companies that pay out the money for the negligent conduct of their insured’s that injure you, will NOT PAY FAIR VALUE if they know that your attorney will not go to trial if pushed. They know who settles easy and who gets top dollar for their clients—and it’s always—without exception — the attorneys that try the most cases to a jury that also get the best settlements for their clients
What should really scare you, is that more than three quarters of the attorneys that claim (in the yellow pages) that they handle personal injury cases, have never actually taken a personal injury case to a jury (court trials don’t count since insurance companies NEVER WAIVE A JURY TRIAL).
So what do you do? JUST ASK YOUR ATTORNEY: “how many personal injury JURY trials have you tried to completion?” “How successful have you been?” Most will give you an honest answer although may attempt to undermine it’s importance. Ask around—spend as much time researching who you should hire for your serious personal injury case as you would spend researching the value of a car or home purchase—it could actually mean that much to you in the long run!
Don’t be too impressed by the vast numbers of legal organizations that most attorneys are “members” of—they are, for the most part non-selective and anyone can join. For Trial attorneys, however, there is one organization, The American Board of Trial advocates (ABOTA) that is invitational only—they only invite the attorneys with the most trial experience to join; even then, they have three levels—Associate, Advocate, and Diplomat, with Associate being the less experienced and Diplomat being the most experience. The few attorneys that qualify for this organization are not allowed to advertise that fact, but if you ask them, they can tell you if they belong and what their ranking is.
In addition, Martindale-Hubbell is the only universally recognized authority within the law profession in actually rating attorneys by both legal competence and ethical standards. The Highest rating is “AV-Pre-eminent”; the lowest being CV. A lack of rating in Martindale-Hubbell is tantamount to less that CV. Again, ask you prospective attorney what his Martindale-Hubbell rating is and whether he is a member of ABOTA.
Obviously, if you could choose the perfect attorney for a serious personal injury case, he or she should be a member of ABOTA, have an “AV-Pre-eminent” Martindale-Hubbell rating, and have taken ever-so-many personal injury cases successfully to jury trial.