10 Questions to Ask an Attorney Before Retaining Their Services

By: allison dean

If you are involved in a medical malpractice case, it can be very overwhelming and confusing when trying to figure out who to hire to represent you or your family. Fortunately, if youíre willing to be pro-active you can learn a lot about an attorneys ability and suitability to represent you by knowing the right questions to ask. Use the ten questions below as a checklist for what you should be looking for in a medical malpractice attorney.

1. What percentage of their cases involve medical malpractice?
Medical malpractice is a narrow and discrete sub-set of personal injury cases. Typically attorneys who excel in handling medical malpractice cases devote a significant portion of their caseload to handling these matters. That is to say, an attorney who just handles one or two medical malpractice cases a year in addition to their regular caseload may lack the necessary experience to get you the outcome you deserve. Make sure that at least a significant percentage of their cases are medical malpractice so that you know they are capable of representing you and your case to the best of their ability.

2. Have they taken a case to trial in the last 24 months, and if so, what was the outcome?
If they havenít had a case go to trial in the last two years, that could mean that they either settled all of their cases out of court, or that they are afraid to go to trial. Few cases actually go to trial, so if its the former, thatís fine, but youíll want to hear that from the attorney. If the latter is true, you definitely want to look elsewhere for representation. If they have had a case go to trial, itís good to ask them how much time, effort, and research went into their preparation, as well as what the verdict was. If they have lost the majority of their court cases, you may want to think twice about hiring them.

3. How many first chair trials have they led in the past 5 years?
First chair refers to the head or lead attorney in the case. They will typically sit in the first chair at the attorneyís table, and their associates and their client will sit next to them. If your lawyer in question has only led a couple of cases or has not led any at all, then they probably lack the skills and experience to handle your case.

4. What is their expected costs of pursuing the litigation, and will they charge you interest on this?
The anticipated costs of your case is an extremely important subject to inquire about. If you retain a lawyer before asking a question like this, you could end up winning the case but not recovering any money. Ask what percentage of the gross settlement they typically end up spending in litigation costs, and recognize that this money will have to be repaid before you get to keep any money.

5. What is their average time to resolution in similar cases?
Once you have established that your candidate has handled cases that are similar to yours and has experience in the area of medical malpractice, it is imperative that you inquire as to how much time it usually takes for them to resolve these types of cases. If their answer is longer than you were hoping for, you could be asking for trouble by hiring them. Be sure to compare their average time to resolution with several other attorneysí average time; you may find that your top pick isnít the right fit for you.

6. What percentage of winnings appointed to you by the court do they plan to take?
Most contingency fee attorneys charge between 33% and 50%, often with a tiered system wherein the percentage gets higher as the case progresses. Most attorneys do not negotiate their percentage, but you will be able to compare one attorney to another with this information.

7. What other types of cases do they take?
If they take on many different types of cases then they may not have ample enough time to give your case the attention it deserves, or have the specialized experience to handle your case properly. If an attorney says that he handles cases ranging from auto accidents, to criminal defense, to divorces, to wills and estates, he is probably a master at none of them.

8. Will they refer your case out, or will they be the handling attorney?
All too often, attorneys will meet with a client, sell themselves to the client as more than adequately skilled in their profession, and then pass on the case to one of their associates after the client has committed to their services and canít object. That is why it is a good idea to ask upfront if your attorney will actually be your attorney, or just someone you meet with once before their associate shows up to take over your case. Other times, the attorney will refer you to a different firm all together, and while they may think they are doing you a good service by giving your case to a friend or fellow lawyer, you may not mesh as well with the new lawyer or have the same expectations for your case.

9. What percentage of medical malpractice cases do they typically refer out?
If the attorney you are contemplating hiring refers all of their medical malpractice cases to someone else, then that may mean that they lack the necessary experience to handle such a case or that they just donít find these types of cases interesting or worth their time. It is definitely best to ask up front what his intentions for your case are and how many similar cases he has handled in the past vs. how many he has referred out.

10. What is a range for the settlement value and trial value for your case?
It is to your benefit to know beforehand what your expectations should be for your case. Cases are very difficult to value, and so any honest attorney will hesitate to provide you with a firm estimate of your cases value. Instead, ask for a range, and have him or her explain to you what factors would cause your case to be at the top end or the bottom end of that range.

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For more information about medical malpractice cases and attorneys, please visit our website at: www.medicalmalpracticelawyers.org.

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