Just the other night while having dinner at a friend’s house, the question was asked: “how do you go about finding the right attorney?” Whether for a personal injury, worker’s compensation, social security disability, wrongful termination case, or other legal matter. With the media being saturated by “lawyer commercials,” phone book displays with advertising on the front and back pages, and self-promoting billboards, I can see where the “average Joe” could be totally confused, just like my friend was.
I explained to my friend that we all are aware, in today’s society and economic conditions, that it’s important to be well-informed and know your rights and what you might expect to face in dealing with insurance companies. You need to be an informed consumer or you are likely to be taken advantage of in your dealings. Although the internet can be a starting place, it has become difficult to determine if such information is reliable. To make an informed decision, you need to do your own research, and not just “surf the net”. Rather than trying to rely on the subjective information on the web, a better approach is to look at how fellow attorneys rate each other, especially in a particular field of law. At this point, I described our Firm, which specializes in personal injury. When we meet with prospective clients, we explain to them on their initial interview that, in choosing a law firm, you need to know whether or not they have the resources necessary to combat the insurance industry. Not only does a law firm need to have the financial resources to fight for you, the Firm also needs to have trial lawyers who are willing to go to court and try cases, as that is the forum where values are established. You need to have a Firm that has experienced trial lawyers who have the skills and abilities to pursue your rights in the courtroom. Otherwise, when the insurance company doesn’t offer enough, how meaningful is the threat to take your case to court ?
How can you, as a consumer, find out which firms have these resources? In this context, the website, www.bestlawyersinamerica.com is probably the best and most objective tool in discerning the best firm for their particular case. At our Firm, we have 8 lawyers who were picked by their peers as being the best Plaintiff’s Attorney’s in the state of Virginia. Of course, you should still scrutinize the information provided on a Firm’s website, as well as in TV commercials, phone books advertisements and signage. Lastly, you should talk to friends or co-workers who have had the same type of legal issue, and find out what they say about the attorney they used or the attorney on the other side.
In closing, to illustrate my point about the need to do some research, I told my friend about a case I handled when I was on the other side of the fence working as a claims person at an insurance company. This case involved a horrible accident where an unknown motorist (“John Doe”) ran a motorcyclist off the road. Unfortunately, the motorcyclist struck a guide wire which almost beheaded him. The limits on our policy were 25/50 UM coverage. When I received the demand letter from the attorney for the man’s estate asking for the policy limits, the letter said that the deceased’s head had been “decrepitated”, instead of “decapitated”. There were a number of other errors and misspellings in the letter. I knew at that point that, whether these were oversights resulting from the attorney failing to proofread his letter or whether the attorney simply didn’t know any better, I doubted this attorney would be organized and detailed enough, or bright enough, to be in command of the facts and to be effective with a jury. I felt I was in better control of the case, I wasn’t impressed by the attorney, and I could be bullish on settling the case for less than it otherwise would have. Eventually I settled this claim for a sum substantially less than what I might have offered to another attorney. With a better attorney, this victim and his family would have had a much better outcome.