Choosing an attorney to handle a medical malpractice case can be very difficult. And if it is a case involving permanent, catastrophic injuries or death, the stakes can be very high. One of the first steps in choosing the right attorney is to avoid the mistake of choosing the wrong attorney. Why is this the first step? Because too often the most visible attorneys are the ones to avoid!
Some attorneys advertise so heavily that they have practically become household names. But this says nothing at all about their experience in successfully handling malpractice cases. In fact, many of the very best malpractice attorneys don’t advertise their services. Why? Because they understand that when the public is bombarded with attorney advertising, it develops a strong bias against lawyers who represent victims. The real malpractice attorneys and their injured clients then have two battles on their hands in the courtroom: one with a well-funded physician or hospital, and a second with a jury biased against them.
Some of the most “media-friendly” lawyers even violate ethics rules in their advertising. Take, for example, an attorney who proclaims he or she will “get you paid” or “make you money.” That bravado and a telegenic smile may be good marketing and may generate phone calls and leads to the attorney, but it is unethical. Attorneys ethically cannot promise results. And if an attorney violates rules of ethical conduct even before you hire him or her, one can only imagine what he or she will do during the representation. Zealous advocacy is one thing; unethical behavior is something else altogether. So, Rule #1: stay away from the big talkers, the promisors, the folks who tell you — without reviewing the medical records — that your case is a “slam dunk” or “worth millions.”
After weeding out the blowhards and the showmen, ask questions. And ask pointed questions. What percentage of the attorney’s caseload is medical negligence? Is the attorney dabbling in medical malpractice cases, while the bulk of his work is really in some other area of the law? Or, does the lawyer focus his or her practice on medical negligence cases exclusively or nearly exclusively? Experience and past success are probably the most important criteria in the selection of a top-notch malpractice attorney.
Get recommendations from friends, family, and other people you trust. And pose those pointed questions. Also, find out whether the attorney is willing to put his or her money on the line. A malpractice attorney who believes in your case will front all expenses and will put in writing that in the event there is no recovery, there will be no fee and no reimbursement of expenses. If your attorney wants you to front expenses, there is a real chance that she doesn’t believe in your case or does not have the financial wherewithal to fully litigate a malpractice case.
Finally, whatever you do, do not hire someone who knocks on your door or calls you out of the blue and tells you they heard you were injured as the result of a medical mistake. This is unethical behavior that never should be rewarded. And if that is what an attorney has to do to get a case, that is an attorney you should run from, not hire.
Remember anyone can buy a television commercial or a big spread in the Yellow Pages. That doesn’t mean he can litigate a medical negligence or wrongful death case. Sometimes the best attorneys take a bit of work to find. But they are very often worth the effort.
Avoid the blowhards. Get recommendations. Ask questions. Then, ask more questions. Take the time to do it right, and you likely will find someone who has the experience and ability to handle catastrophic injury cases.