Understanding Lawyer Advertising in Order to Choose the Best Lawyer for Your Case
The advertising industry makes billions of dollars a year directing people to various products and services. Magazines and newspapers are full of ads, as well as the yellow pages of phone books and never-ending barrage of television commercials.
It is challenging to locate and hire or retain a specialized lawyer based on these kinds of advertisements. It seems that it should not be this hard to locate a good lawyer. If someone had a skin condition that needed medical attention, they could easily find a licensed dermatologist to take care of the problem because dermatologists specialize in treatment of skin conditions.
Therein lies the problem: experienced personal injury lawyers cannot advertise that they specialize in handling catastrophic injury cases. The West Virginia State Bar, which oversees the licensing of lawyers, does not issue a board certification to such class of experienced lawyers, and thus, such lawyers cannot advertise that they are "specialized" in handling such cases.
So, any lawyer may advertise for personal injury cases, even if they only dabble in the "personal injury" practice of law. Unfortunately, the person needing a personal injury lawyer with trial experience cannot easily find such a lawyer because these qualified lawyers are not permitted to say they specialize in personal injury and trial law. Hence, not every lawyer who advertises for "Personal Injury Cases" has the necessary experience to successfully handle catastrophic injury cases.
It takes many years of intense and focused litigation and trial experience, requiring the successful handling of hundreds and hundreds of serious injury and wrongful death cases, to become a highly qualified personal injury lawyer.
Because there are no rules prohibiting inexperienced lawyers from trying to attract injured victims as clients, they often inflate their credentials.
Recently, I noticed a law firm in Washington, D.C. boast in a print advertisement that they had "100 years of combined experience." I must confess that reaching the "100 years" mark looked impressive. That is, until I read on that they had 70 lawyers! On average, each lawyer had less than one and a half years of experience! I had a good laugh. But there might be something to it, because some local law firms are advertising the same way.
You, however, deserve an experienced lawyer who personally has had decades of real legal experience to handle your claim, not some rookie who is trying to learn the ropes of litigation at your expense. Also, look for a Nationally Certified Trial Attorney with a proven record of skill and experience.
Choose an Attorney with a Focus On Catastrophic Injury Cases
Even if a lawyer has practiced law for many years, that alone doesn't mean you have located the right lawyer. Many lawyers have dabbled for decades in too many areas of law to be exceptional in any of them. It is not uncommon to see lawyers with a few decades of experience advertise for personal injury cases in addition to their many other areas of practice which may include: criminal law, bankruptcy law, divorce and family law, employment law, taxation law, black lung law, workers compensation law, social security benefits, elder law, real estates, administrative law, health law, titles and deeds, and estate planning.
So, the fact that a lawyer has been practicing for decades doesn't mean anything unless The focus of that practice has been on personal injury law, insurance law, and trials and appeals.
I am not suggesting, however, that only the most experienced personal injury lawyers are the only lawyers who can handle personal injury cases. Many good, hard-working lawyers can handle many types of simple personal injury cases. But catastrophic injury and wrongful death cases are a lot more involved than simple personal injury cases.
You will only get one chance at a recovery, so you should choose a lawyer that focuses exclusively on the area of your needs. That is why my law firm practices exclusively in personal injury law, representing injury victims.
Select a Lawyer with a Focus On Insurance Practice
I have stressed this point throughout this guide that one of the most important parts of your injury case is understanding what kind of insurance coverage will be available to pay for your injuries. This area of law is very complex, and should not be left to an inexperienced lawyer.
I have litigated hundreds of insurance issues and have the experience at trial and appeals to handle the most challenging insurance coverage disputes. Don't settle for less than a skilled insurance lawyer to handle your catastrophic injury case-your recovery depends on it.
The Insurance Companies Recognize Good Lawyers
As stated previously, trial experience is extremely important as well because the insurance companies pay attention to their opponent's qualifications and track record. The insurance companies know that good trial lawyers do more and get more for their clients than inexperienced lawyers, and thus the insurance companies pay more for claims that are handled by those skilled lawyers. Don't settle for anything less than a Nationally Board Certified Trial Attorney.
Insurance companies have respect for highly-skilled, former defense lawyers who now practice personal injury law-they know these lawyers can handle the catastrophic injury and wrongful death cases successfully at trial and appeal.
Lawyers Who Focus On Appellate Practice
You should be aware that many lawyers who advertise they are a "trial lawyer" may have never tried a personal injury case before a jury, much less argued an appeal before the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals.
Even the Chief Justice of the West Virginia Supreme Court has commented, "Most lawyers who classify themselves as trial lawyers or litigators have no trial experience." The West Virginia Lawyer, Jan-Mar 2012 Ed.
Only choose an experienced personal injury lawyer with real trial and appellate experience in catastrophic injury cases to handle your injury claim, and better yet, one who is a Nationally Board Certified Trial Attorney.
Value of A Good Lawyer
In the mid-1970's, General Chuck Yeager visited my high school in southern West Virginia, and he spoke about his experience as a test pilot for the Air Force and NASA. A West Virginia native, General Yeager broke the sound barrier-a dangerous and courageous feat in those early days space flight testing.
Some years later, he appeared on TV commercials for AC Delco batteries and spark plugs. The "You can pay me now, or pay me later" slogan he made popular is still repeated today, at least by those of us in our 50's (or above).
Of course, the cost of buying a new spark plug or battery is a lot cheaper than the damage a bad one can cause, so the saying goes. The same is true about hiring a lawyer. A qualified, competent personal injury lawyer will do more for you than you can do for yourself. Such a lawyer will not only earn their fees, but obtain a greater recovery for you.
We live in a "handy-man" society, and there are lots of people who wire or plumb their own houses. At the time, the do-it-yourself approach seemed to be a great cost savings, but when it is time to sell the house, that's when the problems surface and regrets are borne! Perhaps you should give further consideration to obtaining a lawyer to look over your case before you take the "handy-man" approach to solving your own legal problems.
Remember, the insurance adjusters have their own lawyers. Shouldn't you?
You Can Afford a Good Lawyer
A good lawyer will offer you a contingency fee contract, which means that you will not have to advance any money to the lawyer for fees or costs. The fees and costs are paid when the lawyer obtains a fair recovery for you. Good lawyers are worth the fees they charge, which are customarily about one-third of the recovery in a typical personal injury case. Fees may be slightly more for some cases where the legal issues are complex and/or where liability issues are in serious dispute.
Contingency fee contracts must be in writing under ethics rules, which provides both you and the lawyer with a record of what was agreed to for the representation. Be cautious, however, of lawyers who advertise for low fees; you get what you pay for.
Necessity of Attorney Malpractice Insurance
Unfortunately, some lawyers are too eager to attract personal injury clients and are not adept at running their own law office at the same time. They forget to file important legal papers, and ultimately, some injury claims are dismissed because of lawyer malpractice. Inquire of lawyers you are considering about legal malpractice insurance.
Many lawyers do not have any legal malpractice insurance coverage. This means that if that lawyer makes a legal mistake on your case, and it causes your claim to be dismissed or significantly diminished in value, there will be no insurance settlement of your claim of legal malpractice-you will be forced to sue the lawyer, who may not have any financial resources to pay your claim.
The State Bar mandates that all professional limited liability companies must have at least one million dollars in liability protection for legal malpractice. My law firm is a professional limited liability company (PLLC), and carries mandatory liability coverage for the protection of clients.
Even excellent lawyers can make a mistake, but if we do, we want our clients to be cared for properly. By the way, I can proudly report that neither myself, nor any associate of my law firm, has ever had an ethics complaint or malpractice claim filed against us. We continually endeavor to do our best to do things right the first time for our clients.
Family Matters in Your Personal Injury Claim
When it comes to looking out for your legal rights, you should also realize that your decision will affect not only you, but your family as well. No one, not even your family, though, can force you to look out for them. It is your decision and your responsibility to look out for your family and seek legal counsel.
When serious medical conditions are ignored, they usually get worse, if not fatal. Similarly, legal "conditions" which are ignored often get worse. This is why injured people should seek legal advice early on in the claim process-to prevent their legal rights from being lost or compromised.
Those who get legal help early don't have to agonize over whether they are making good decisions about their injury claim; they rely on their lawyer for such advice. Be assured that the insurance company will provide no help for you or your family after you have waited too long to act on your claim and failed to obtain the legal help you need to get the job done right.
Excerpt from Righting the Wrong: West Virginia Serious Injury Guide by Jeff Robinette, 2012.