Key Selection Factors for Choosing a Lawyer to Handle Your Personal Injury Case in Massachusetts
The following is an article about considerations you will face when selecting a personal injury lawyer. For more information please contact Eric J. Parker.
An Unexpected Personal Injury
Personal Injury Experience Matters
Don’t Settle a Personal Injury Case for Less
Select an Experienced Personal Injury Lawyer
A Personal Injury Lawyer’s Level of Service
Doing Your Homework When Selecting A Personal Injury Lawyer
Finding the Best Personal Injury Lawyer for Your Case
It’s Friday night after a long and stressful workweek. Time to shut down the computer in preparation for your long drive home.
The temperature is unseasonably warm, so you decide to drop the top on your convertible and enjoy the warm summer air. As you veer onto the Massachusetts turnpike, an 18-wheeler, traveling at an unnerving clip, passes you on the right. Without warning, the truck’s rear tire bursts, sending nearly 90 pounds of hard rubber and razor-sharp wire over the top of your car’s hood and directly into your face and chest. Your car careens out of control, violently slamming into another motorist. Your injuries are life threatening. Your disfigurement is permanent. Your life, and the lives of your wife and children, will never be the same. You need a Boston personal injury lawyer with the smarts, experience, and proven track record to deliver a substantial recovery.
When a medical doctor is granted a license to practice, that license is not limited to any particular area of practice. Aside from hospital policy, there is no law that prevents an anesthesiologist from performing surgery. Fortunately, common sense and the fear of lawsuits prevent such crossover. Though the same general rule applies to an attorney’s license to practice law, crossover – the tendency for a lawyer with limited experience in a particular sub-specialty to handle a case in that practice area – is all too common.
One explanation for why lawyers risk venturing into unfamiliar territory has to do with “fee sharing.” Lawyers, unlike doctors, are not legally prohibited from sharing fees with colleagues who refer clients to them. In fact, lawyers routinely outsource cases that do not fall within their own area of specialization. In most instances, the referral is made with the client’s best interests in mind, and without any expectation of compensation from the referee counsel. The same cannot always be said in the area of personal injury law.
In most states, including Massachusetts, lawyers who refer cases to personal injury attorneys are paid a “referral fee,” typically one third of the net legal fee recovered on behalf of the client. For example, if a lawyer referred a medical malpractice case to an attorney specializing in that area and the case resulted in a $300,000 award, the referring attorney could expect a $33,333 referral fee. Put another way – the lawyer who elects to refer the $300,000 medical malpractice case to a more experienced lawyer forfeits two-thirds of the legal fee he otherwise would have earned had he handled the case himself. It is therefore not difficult to understand why a lawyer with little or no experience might be tempted to retain a medical case, rather than referring it to an attorney with considerably more experience in medical malpractice litigation.
Don’t Settle for Less
There’s an old saying among trial lawyers: cases prepared for trial usually settle, while cases prepared for settlement usually go to trial. Lawyers who take cases with little or no intention of bringing the case to trial often reveal that inclination to the law firms and insurance companies they oppose. Insurance defense attorneys are acutely aware of those lawyers and law firms who seldom, if ever, take their cases to trial. The result is often grossly insufficient offers by insurance companies and 11th-hour settlements at a fraction of the case’s full value. Reluctance by many lawyers to take their cases to trial can be traced to a number of factors: lack of trial experience, insufficient resources, even the simple fear of losing. Regardless of the cause, a lawyer who is not willing to try a case has no business accepting the case, and he should immediately refer the case to an attorney willing to go the distance.
While a lawyer’s past trial experience should be a consideration when selecting an attorney to handle your personal injury case, the actual number of trials previously undertaken by one attorney over another should not be the controlling factor in the selection process. According to recent studies, only 2 percent of all personal injury cases are resolved by trial. The remaining 98 percent are resolved either through settlement or dismissal. The rarity of personal injury trials is due in large part to the fact that good cases – cases where the defendant’s liability is likely to be proven at trial – are often resolved by insurance companies long before trial. Therefore, the ability to develop evidence of a defendant’s liability is among a trial lawyer’s most valuable assets.
Another important factor in selecting a personal injury lawyer or law firm to handle your case is the degree of personal service offered by the firm. Such services include: regular communication between lawyer and client; lawyer accessibility by way of telephone, e-mail, or personal conferences; the reliability of the lawyer and his staff to deliver on promises; and the professionalism of the legal support staff. While it is often difficult to evaluate a law firm’s commitment to client service in advance, there are some telltale signs. An attorney who is slow to return a call seeking an office appointment for a new matter is not likely to improve over time. The real test of a law firm’s commitment to client service begins after the honeymoon has ended.
In years past, apart form word of mouth, clients had little more than the Yellow Pages to help them find a personal injury lawyer. The Internet changed everything. Law firm websites now include detailed attorney profiles, descriptions of past personal injury cases handled by the law firm, pro-bono or other charitable legal work performed by the law firm, video interviews with attorneys, and a more intimate view of the firm’s “look and feel.”
While many law firms claim to be “the best” in their respective practice area, there are more objective and reliable indications of a lawyer’s stature in the legal community. Perhaps the most well known such credential is the rating system used by Martindale Hubbell. The venerable, 130-year-old law library is America’s oldest and largest directory of lawyers and law firms. Lawyers surveyed by Martindale Hubbell are issued ratings attesting to each lawyer’s professional skill and legal ethics. Professional skill ratings range from “C,” denoting a good to high ranking, to “B,” indicating a high to very high rating, to “A,” the directory’s preeminent rating. Added to this skill ranking is an ethical grade, the highest of which is signified with a “V,” making an “AV” the preeminent ranking for both skill and ethics. In addition to confidential surveys, an attorney’s membership in “invitation-only” legal associations, such as ABOTA, the American Board of Trial Advocates, may be a valuable indication of an attorney’s peer regard. Memberships in many other associations are granted solely by paying an annual fee. Other hallmarks of excellence include the “Super Lawyer” designation awarded by Boston Magazine (awarded to the top 5% of all Massachusetts attorneys); a “10/10” rating (“Superb”) by Avvo; and the Massachusetts “Law Firm of the Year” award by Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly.
While there will never be a fool-proof method for selecting the right personal injury lawyer to represent you in an important case, taking advantage of the information available on the Internet or at most public libraries can help assure you that you’ve made an informed decision when you do choose your lawyer.
More on Eric J. Parker, Top Personal Injury Lawyer in Boston
Eric J. Parker is a co-founder of Parker Scheer LLP and serves as the firm’s Managing Partner leading up the personal injury practice. With over 28 years of experience in complex personal injury trial work, Attorney Parker represents adults and children injured or killed as a result of defectively designed and manufactured products, as well as victims of medical malpractice, nursing home abuse and neglect, defective premises, motor vehicle negligence, and aviation-related injury or death.