The Importance of Hiring a Certified Specialist in Personal Injury and Wrongful Death

I can’t drive down the street without seeing lawyers advertising for personal injury cases.  Their faces stare out at me from the sides of buses, from billboards and from bus stop shelters.  I can’t watch the television for more than a few minutes without seeing lawyers advertising for personal injury cases.  You pick a show, they advertise on it.   Unless you are blind, you see all this advertising too.

After over 45 years of trying cases and representing people injured by the negligence of others, I know who is good and who is not.  I know that many of these advertising lawyers have never set foot in a courtroom.  All they do is appear in advertisements and run an office full of paralegals, who process cases.  They are personal injury mills.  On the rare occasion when they cannot get a settlement and the case needs to be tried, they get someone you have never heard of to actually try it for them.

You haven’t been trying cases for over 45 years.  How can you know who is good and who is not?  My advice is to look for a lawyer who has been certified as a specialist by the State Bar of Arizona.  Although the State Bar certifies lawyers in nine different fields of law, for our purposes, I am going to discuss only the Personal Injury and Wrongful Death specialization.

Thirty years ago, with the permission of the Arizona Supreme Court, the State Bar established a specialization for Personal Injury and Wrongful Death.  The purpose of the certification was to “identify to the public and the Bar those lawyers who have demonstrated superior knowledge, skill, integrity, professionalism and a high degree of competence . . . ” in personal injury law.  This is exactly the kind of lawyer you should want to represent you if you have a personal injury case or if you have lost a loved one due to the negligence of another.

So what does a lawyer have to do to get certified as a specialist in Personal Injury and Wrongful Death?  In the first place, the lawyer must have been practicing for at least five years and the last two of those years must have been here in Arizona.  Just practicing law is not enough.  The lawyer must have devoted at least half of his or her time to personal injury and wrongful death cases.

Just devoting most of a lawyer’s time to personal injury and wrongful death matters is not enough either.   The lawyer must show that she has tried cases and done the things that lawyers do when they try cases, including making opening statements, examining and cross-examining witnesses and making closing arguments.  Points are assigned for each of these tasks and for cases that got settled as well.  An applicant must get at least 180 points to qualify.  This works out to requiring at least 10-15 trials and the lawyer must provide information about all cases she or he has tried.

The lawyer who wants to be a specialist must take a written test to demonstrate knowledge of the Arizona law relating to personal injury and wrongful death.  She must submit recommendations from lawyers or judges who have been involved in her cases attesting to her knowledge, skill, preparation, effectiveness, and judgment as well as her ethics and professionalism.  The committee overseeing the certification process will choose other lawyers involved in her cases who did not submit a recommendation and ask about the same issues of ability and ethics.  The lawyer applying for certification must display ability and ethics higher than that of a general practice lawyer.  Any lawyer discipline may be enough to prevent a lawyer from becoming certified or may result in suspension of previously granted certification.

If a lawyer is experienced enough and good enough and ethical enough to make it through the application process and to become certified as a specialist in Personal Injury and Wrongful Death, she or he must take continuing legal education courses each year in trial and personal injury practice to keep up their skills.  They are also required to maintain legal malpractice insurance, which is not something required of other lawyers.

If you are the victim of an accident and suffer any sort of significant injury or if you lose a loved one in an accident, your choice of the lawyer to represent you is a serious one.  You want someone who can try your case, if it needs to be tried, and who knows how to prepare a case for trial.  This is the kind of lawyer who can get the most for your case.  The goal of the advertising lawyer running the personal injury mill is to process and settle cases.  The insurance companies know who these lawyers are and that they don’t try cases.  They know that most of the time, they will cave in at the end and take what is offered because they are afraid to go to trial.  Get yourself a good lawyer with a proven track record, not just someone who looks good on the side of a bus.

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