Posted by John Ager on 19 September 2016.
There are a lot of lawyers in Arizona who say they handle medical malpractice cases. I can tell you from experience, however, there really are very few who know how to properly evaluate and litigate a medical malpractice case. So, if you think you or a loved one has been the victim of medical negligence, how do you pick the right lawyer to help? Here are some things to look for and questions to ask.
How long has the lawyer been practicing? As we often discuss in this blog and on our website, medical malpractice cases are among the most difficult personal injury cases for a whole host of reasons. Medical malpractice litigation is not something that a lawyer can just start doing effectively out of the gate. There are many traps for the unwary. It takes years of experience to understand whether to even take a case and years of practice to develop the skills necessary to successfully handle one through trial. A lawyer who has only a few years of experience is likely to have trouble navigating the medical malpractice minefield that awaits. And, a lawyer taking a bad case simply adds insult to the client’s injury.
What are the lawyer’s practice areas? Some lawyers claim to have a practice that seems to include everything under the sun from family law to bankruptcy to dog bites. While some lawyers may be competent in a variety of areas, generally you should look for someone who focuses solely on personal injury law and then primarily on medical negligence cases. Medical negligence cases are not for dabblers.
How many cases has the lawyer tried? There are many good lawyers who have tried very few cases. However, a good medical malpractice lawyer will have tried many personal injury cases. These are civil cases and a good percentage of them should have been medical malpractice cases. Look for a lawyer who has tried 20 or more personal injury cases to verdict. Some lawyers have tried a lot of cases, but that does not mean they are qualified. Not all cases require the skill set that medical negligence cases require. Ask for specifics. How many civil as opposed to criminal cases has the lawyer tried? You want your lawyer to have civil trial experience. How many of those cases were jury trials? Jury trial experience is critical. How many were medical malpractice cases? In Arizona, plaintiffs lose 90% of medical malpractice cases at trial. A won loss record is generally not as important as being perceived by an insurance company as having the ability to try a medical negligence case when necessary. That will maximize any settlement offer that is made. Lawyers who have the necessary skills to successfully try medical malpractice cases are often Certified Specialists in Personal and Wrongful Death Litigation by the State Bar of Arizona or have been recognized by a reputable organization like the American College of Trial Lawyers. Ask the lawyer what type of recognition they have received and whether any credential is something they simply paid for. Unfortunately, many credentials are. Don’t be afraid to ask the lawyer for references either including former clients or other lawyers.
Is the lawyer a good fit for you? Picking a lawyer is not easy. You have to rely on your judgment here. You have a limited amount of time to make a critical decision about someone in whose hands you are placing your one chance to get justice for incredible harm. It can be hard to tell if the lawyer you are speaking with is really the best fit for you. The relationship between a lawyer and a client is a lot like a marriage. Each must trust and respect the other to be happy. The lawyer also has to be able to speak frankly with the client from the beginning. Be wary of anyone who makes big promises they might not be able to keep just so they can get you to sign a fee agreement. Good lawyers don’t need to pressure prospective clients or make big promises. Make sure you are comfortable with the lawyer you pick before you sign anything. I recommend interviewing at least three lawyers before making a decision, even if you are already pretty sure about one person. And, trust your intuition.
Does the lawyer ask for money up front? No reputable Arizona medical malpractice lawyer will ask you to pay for an initial consultation or to advance the costs of investigating or litigating a claim. This is a giant red flag which means that the lawyer is either unable to afford to take on your case and is likely to litigate it on the cheap, the lawyer doesn’t have much confidence in it, or the lawyer doesn’t know what they are doing. Incurring the expense of investigating and litigating cases is part of the cost of doing business as a medical malpractice lawyer. The only time you should ever pay your lawyer anything is when he or she makes a recovery on your behalf.
Use the internet. The internet is actually a pretty good way to identify Phoenix medical malpractice lawyers. A reasonably tailored Google search (i.e. Phoenix medical malpractice attorney) will reveal many of the leading lawyers within the first few pages of search results. Pay careful attention to the lawyer’s website. The information provided, or lack of it, often says a lot about the lawyer’s practice and abilities and will help you identify who those leaders are.