Questions You Should Ask a Potential Attorney
Hiring an attorney can be a complicated and sometimes intimidating process. The average person who has never been involved in a lawsuit does not usually know the best way to judge one law firm against another and often does not know how to see past claims made by attorneys and to get meaningful information about an attorney’s experience in similar cases. Asking attorneys you are considering hiring these few simple questions should give you the information you need to make an informed decision about which attorney is best suited to handle your case.
1. Have you ever tried a case before a jury?
The phrase “trial attorney” gets used so often that it has almost lost its meaning. True trial attorneys are attorneys who have tried cases before a jury, who understand the complexities associated with a jury trial, who have handled appeals, and who have the ability and resources to see a case through to the end. Defense attorneys are well aware of whether an attorney who files a lawsuit knows how to try a case before a jury. If the attorney you select has never tried a case before a jury, it may be very difficult for that attorney to recover as much as you would recover if you had an experienced trial attorney representing you.
At Riley & Jackson, P.C., our attorneys have tried many cases before a jury. Defense lawyers in Alabama know that we will try your case and that we have the experience and resources necessary to make the best possible presentation at trial.
2. How many cases like mine have you handled before?
Many “personal injury” attorneys may very well have handled several automobile collision claims that they settled prior to trial, but those claims may not in any way be similar to a trucking litigation claim, for example. Likewise, an attorney who has handled a few medical malpractice cases but has never handled a nursing home malpractice case may not have the experience you would want in the attorney working on your case. Nursing homes are governed by their own set of regulations and are subject to their own standards of care. All cases are different, but it is certainly appropriate for you to ask your potential attorney whether he or she has previously worked on matters similar to your case.
Our attorneys have a broad range of experience in matters involving trucking litigation, wrongful death, complex commercial disputes, securities litigation, nursing home malpractice, medical malpractice, personal injuries, premises liability, traumatic brain injuries, and numerous other types of litigation.
3. How long have you been practicing law?
In the field of litigation, there is no substitute for meaningful experience. While an attorney who has been practicing 10 years certainly may be as effective as an attorney who has been practicing 20, you should ensure that the attorney you are considering has been practicing law long enough to have been exposed to all of the tactics, arguments, and litigation maneuvers typically utilized by Defendants in litigation. At Riley & Jackson, P.C., our attorneys have over 50 years of combined experience.
4. How much do you charge as attorney’s fees?
An experienced attorney knows that a fair and reasonable attorneys’ fee for a given case depends on the case itself. For example, a relatively straightforward automobile collision case should have a lower attorney’s fee than a complex medical malpractice case because the malpractice case will be much more expensive and will carry more risk for the attorney. If a potential attorney tells you what the attorneys’ fee would be without knowing anything about your case, then that is information you should take into account.
At Riley & Jackson, P.C., we structure all of our client agreements to be fair and reasonable under the facts of that specific case. We discuss and consider various fee arrangements ranging from a pure contingency agreement to a reduced contingency agreement in certain cases when a client pays a portion of the expenses. We also discuss fee arrangements when appropriate that involve a mixed hourly rate and contingency fee.
5. Will you personally be handling my case?
In some law firms, the attorney you first meet will not be the attorney doing most of the work on your case. Often, the “lead attorney” does little more than sign up the client and wait until the case is resolved before meeting with the client for a distribution of settlement proceeds. In these situations, this lead attorney allows another attorney to do all of the work prior to trial, if the case does go to trial. In our experience, clients want the attorneys they are hiring to do most of the work.
At Riley & Jackson, P.C., we give you the opportunity to meet everyone who will be working on your file. Because of our small size, our two principles are able to be involved in every case in litigation.
6. What is the attorney’s current caseload, and does he or she have time to be actively involved in your case?
Many law firms are like most businesses in that they focus first on getting business in the door and worry later about how much time they have to work on the business. You will want to make sure that the lawyer you are considering has a good enough reputation to be busy but does not have a caseload that it is so heavy that he or she will not be able to devote adequate time to your case.
At Riley & Jackson, P.C., we manage our caseload very closely to ensure that every case in our office gets thorough and personalized attention to maximize the value of the case for our clients.