How to choose a lawyer?
August 19, 2008 8:02 PM   Subscribe

How can I choose the best lawyer?

I don't have a lot of access to good word-of-mouth resources in the area I am searching for a lawyer in (Columbus, Ohio).

I have good judgment of character and intelligence in person, but I know there are many other important factors when selecting counsel, such as experience and local representation, and I don't know how to do proper "background checks" on the lawyers I've had consultations with before I retain someone. I'm familiar with Lexis-Nexis peer review ratings and am trying to interpret other variables like the fee structures offered (contingency vs. hourly) and their eagerness to represent me; what other resources should I avail myself of in making this important and potentially costly decision?

What are some easily-determinable indicators that the lawyers have my best interests in mind (to some extent) and are qualified and well-suited to make my case? Is the relative swankness of their offices, for example, something I should actually pay attention to?

I am looking for representation for a personal injury claim (wrongful death) and some related probate litigation, if that is significant. I've had consultation with several attorneys and
posted by xanthippe to Law & Government (12 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: Ugh... didn't finish the sentence. ...need to make an educated decision before retaining counsel!
posted by xanthippe at 8:08 PM on August 19, 2008

Do you consult with any other trusted professionals? Doctors; accountants perhaps? Ask them for a referral.
posted by Theloupgarou at 8:24 PM on August 19, 2008

Do you know any lawyers anywhere? As a lawyer, one of the questions I get most often is "Hey can you recommend someone in East Nowhere who can help me with . . . " Lawyers know other lawyers all over the country. We work with them and do cases with them. Lexis/Nexis and Martindale ratings are pretty much worthless. You want to find a lawyer somewhere that you trust, ask him to get some names for you in Columbus, and then meet with those people (or talk to them on the phone) to make sure they are smart, experienced in the relevant area, dedicated, zealous, cheap or whatever your criteria happen to be.

But as a first step, find a lawyer you know you like (somewhere) to recommend a lawyer he or she thinks you can actually use (in Columbus).
posted by The Bellman at 8:45 PM on August 19, 2008

The primary consideration should be whether they have significant experience with your specific type of case--the more specific the experience, the better. Wrongful deaths caused by an 18-wheeler v. medical malpractice v. on-the-job accident implicate significantly different practice areas. Preferably, you also want someone who has a few jury verdicts in their favor because the insurance companies will usually offer a better settlement to someone that they know is not afraid to go to trial (the companies all track this stuff).

Fees are always negotiable, so if you find someone the right experience, attempting to negotiate a fee will give you a good idea as to how well they communicate (e.g., create a feedback loop for further evaluation).
posted by ajr at 8:46 PM on August 19, 2008

By the way, I don't know how it works in Ohio, but in New York, probate actions are heard in Surrogate's Court and the PI action would be heard in State Supreme Court (which is what New York, unsurprisingly, calls its ordinary trial court). You would want two very different lawyers for those two actions here, as Surrogate's Court practice (which I don't do, so this is just reputation, not experience) is said to be very much about who you know and how well you are known. For such actions you want someone who has been at it a long time, is well known to the judges, and knows the procedural complexities of the probate court (whatever they call it) very well. A PI lawyer will be a somewhat different animal.
posted by The Bellman at 8:49 PM on August 19, 2008

The most idiotic person in the law field that I knew had the most beautiful office I have ever seen. OTOH, one of the best attorneys I ever worked with drove a Geo Metro and had a humble, yet nice and clean office. So, don't assume a swanky office space equals good representation.

I would ask around - dentist, doctor, clergy person, someone you trust for a referral for a good attorney - the attorney doesn't have to be one that practices the area of law you are looking for. Then, call that attorney and ask them for a referral for an attorney in wrongful death cases.

A good attorney will answer your questions and won't rush you. The good attorneys will assume you've never been through this before and will walk you through it - although don't expect them to hold your hand all of the time and call/email you every day with an "update" - unless you like being billed for that sort of thing.
posted by Sassyfras at 9:09 PM on August 19, 2008

nthing 'ask a lawyer you know'. Often, the lawyer you know in X will work for or know of a firm which deals with lawyers in your area, and so can recommend that way.
posted by djgh at 10:18 PM on August 19, 2008

I googled "columbus ohio largest verdict" and clicked on the first link. I have never heard of them before and don't know their reputation. I don't live in your part of the country. But with that name, you could google for more info about them and past cases and see what other people think about them. Also, post a question on Craigslist asking who in the area are considered "the best" trial attorneys for complex, high-value death cases. Ignore tv lawyers and people that self-solicit you from that post. Also, law students or professors may be more tuned in to the reputations of local firms. If you think any law firm could be a possibility, set up a free consultation and go with your gut reaction. If they are unable to take your case, ask them who they believe would be a better match for this kind of case. Lawyers that try cases to verdict know other lawyers who try cases to verdict. I would suggest that you avoid any law firm that advertises on daytime television or has an obnoxious or gimmicky feel.

If there is a trial-lawyer association in the area, call them and ask who among their members are considered to be one of the top 5 most respected plaintiffs firms. At the end of the day, you want an attorney that is respected by his adversaries. Obtaining multiple large verdicts in the recent past is one of the best signals to an opponent that that attorney has the resources available to vigorously prosecute the wrongful death claim. Weilding that stick tends to encourage settlement out of court. I think any good law firm that handles wrongful death cases will know of some probate attorneys they can reccommend.
posted by DB Cooper at 10:53 PM on August 19, 2008

I'd go to a trusted family friend or family member who is an attorney, tell them what type of attorney that you need and have them ask around. It is the best way.
posted by Ironmouth at 9:53 AM on August 20, 2008

You could locate a lawyer in the area you know DOES NOT handle PI cases when they turn you down and ask who they would recommend. A recommendation from a friend with knowledge would be better but at least the person I'm suggesting would have no personal interest in the case and because the are in the general field would be likely to know who the "big hitters" are. (Kind of sneaky but, I am a lawyer).
posted by Carbolic at 10:23 AM on August 20, 2008

And I'm a sloppy typist.
posted by Carbolic at 10:44 AM on August 20, 2008

I don't know if it would be applicable in this case, but here goes...

I've heard that, when looking for contract labor (electrician, carpenter, etc.), and you have a "short list" of say, five possibles, ask each one of them, "If you couldn't do the job, which of these four would you recommend?" Then go with the one most voted for by the others. (This assumes that they all know each other. )

I have no idea if this would apply to lawyers.
posted by ObscureReferenceMan at 2:19 PM on August 20, 2008

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