Characteristics of a Good Lawyer

Published: 05th October 2010
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There are a number of factors to consider when hiring a personal injury attorney and with more than 10,000 such lawyers practicing in the United States, the process of selecting just the right one can be difficult. The following list of factors may prove helpful in making your decision.

1. Fees – How does the personal injury attorney set his fees? Most lawyers work on a flat fee basis, though in many matters, hourly billing or contingency billing may be done. If an attorney prices way outside of the market – either on the high of the low side – this should be a source of concern. The lawyer may not have any idea how much work is really involved in the case. Or the lawyer may simply be attempting to gouge. A lawyer who quotes a price too low may also be able to price that way because the work is being pushed down to the level of a legal assistant or very junior associate. There are great lawyers who charge more and lawyers who operate extremely efficiently who can charge less. But comparison shopping will serve you well.

2. Disciplinary Actions – Has the attorney ever been disciplined by the Board of Professional Responsibility of the state bar? This is an obvious sign of problems. There are also people who falsely claim to be licensed attorneys. The local bar is also the place to check that the attorney is licensed and in good standing.

3. Community Reputation – Has the lawyer established a good name for himself or herself in the community? If your attorney has a sterling community reputation, chances are it was earned through hard work.

4. Client References – A strong reference from a friend or colleague is often the best indicator of whether a lawyer is up to snuff.

5. Focus of Practice – Within personal injury law, there are a variety of sub-specialties. Consider going with a lawyer with a strong background in your particular type of case.

6. Personal Injury Exclusive Practice – Many lawyers list personal injury law as one of a variety of types of matters they handle. It is tough enough for a full-time personal injury attorney to keep abreast of all of the developments in the practice area. It is nearly impossible to be a top notch personal injury attorney while trying to balance being an expert in many other practice areas as well. While someone can be a good personal injury attorney and also be very competent in another practice area, watch out for lawyers where personal injury is one practice area on a laundry list of claimed specialties.

7. Years in Practice – Much of personal injury law is unwritten and the longer one is in practice, the better one’s instincts become. But the opposite can be true as well. Lawyers who have been practicing for years may become lazy about staying up to date on the latest changes. Some of the worst lawyers practicing personal injury law in this country are the ones who have been around the longest. So try and strike a balance.

8. Lawyer-Paralegal Ratio – One of the ways personal injury practices are attempting to keep costs down is to hire paralegals and legal assistants to do much of the work that personal injury attorneys used to do on their own. In some markets, this may be the only way to keep costs low enough for people to afford to hire a lawyer. But you should know what you are paying for. Some of the most expensive personal injury firms still staff with extremely high ratios of paralegals – sometimes as high as ten paralegals per attorney. A more modest ratio of one to two paralegals per attorney may mean that the firm is not too overloaded with work and it may mean that the attorney you thought you were hiring actually knows what is happening on your case and has the time to speak with you about your case.

9. Caseload – Is your lawyer taking on so much work that there is no way cases can properly be handled? Too many lawyers don’t know when to draw the line and either say no to taking on additional work or to make the decision to take on more attorneys and staff.

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