A lawsuit, and the trial of a case, can be like a battle. The experience, reputation and the strength of the lawyers all matter. The outcome of a lawsuit over a catastrophic or serious injury will affect the rest of your life. Therefore, the decision of which lawyer to retain is critical. Before you hire a lawyer, consider the following: The Lawyer's Certification (or Lack Thereof) Is the lawyer certified as a civil trial specialist? We live in an advertising age, and today's personal injury lawyers do find that advertising is an effective and even necessary way to convey what they do to the general public. This creates two problems. First, it is hard to make an informed decision on which lawyer to hire, when all of the advertisements look impressive. Second, there are many lawyers who claim in their advertising to be "litigation experts" or "alternative dispute resolution (ADR) experts", who are lacking in actual trial experience and qualifications. The best way to make sure you hire a lawyer who is truly qualified to handle your case, through trial if necessary, is to hire a certified "civil trial specialist".
In 1988, the Minnesota State Bar Association created the Civil Trial Certification Council (CTCC), which is a volunteer council consisting of lawyers appointed by the Minnesota State Bar Association (MSBA), the Minnesota Defense Lawyers Association, and the Minnesota Trial Lawyers Association. The Council's purpose is to determine which of Minnesota's lawyers may be certified as "civil trial specialists". To become a MSBA-certified civil trial specialist, a lawyer must go through a demanding application process to demonstrate his/her experience, qualifications and achievements. The lawyer must:
* Provide proof that at least 50% of the lawyer's practice is in the area of civil trial law.
Important Points ...
* Is the lawyer a certified civil trial specialist?
* The lawyer's reputation and relevant experience
* The law firm's staff, technology & resources
* Certify that he or she has had primary responsibility for numerous jury trials, and extensive experience in other contested matters.
* Receive positive recommendations from other lawyers who also practice in the area of civil trial law and who are familiar with the abilities and achievements of the applying lawyer. (At least 2 positive references must be from judges before whom the applying lawyer has appeared).
* Pass a challenging written examination consisting of essay questions specific to the practice of civil trial law and ethics.
The submitted information is reviewed by the CTCC which then determines whether the applicant has the requisite expertise, experience, achievements and reputation to be a certified civil trial specialist. To remain certified, the lawyer must obtain required amounts of continuing legal education credits specifically on civil trial law every year, and must become re-certified every six years. As of March 2003, only 336 out of about 22,500 Minnesota-licensed attorneys were certified as civil trial specialists. Therefore, when reviewing a lawyer's advertisement, look to see whether the lawyer is identified as a civil trial specialist. (Minnesota law forbids lawyers from stating they are "specialists in a field", unless they are in fact certified as such by an approved organization). Certification will ensure you that you are receiving services from a lawyer who has expert qualifications and superior achievement in the area of personal injury law.
The Lawyer's Reputation and Relevant Experience
You should also confirm that the lawyer has a reputation for outstanding trial performance. You may ask, "why is a lawyer's reputation for trial experience important, if I want my case to be resolved without going to trial?" The answer is, the other side will be more likely to accept your reasonable settlement offer, if the other side knows that the alternative is to go to trial against an experienced trial lawyer with a reputation for courtroom success. Again, one way to be sure that a lawyer has a reputation for courtroom success, is to hire a civil trial specialist.
Otherwise, you can ask questions about the lawyer's reputation and qualifications. You can ask that the lawyer provide you information about his/her track record and results. Has the lawyer made any significant jury recoveries or won appeals making new law?
Inquire into the firm's experience with your type of case and, specifically, its medical knowledge concerning your specific injury. Have the lawyers handled this type of injury? Do they spend time studying and understanding medical terminology, medicine and the treatment of injuries? Are they members of any special injury groups? Do they keep current on injury law in trial associations? Are the lawyers considered "professionals" by their peers?
Once a trial lawyer does obtain a jury verdict, it may have to be affirmed on appeal. How about his/her experience in the Court of Appeals or the Supreme Court? Ask.
The Law Firm's Technology, Resources and Staffing
Today technology is very important. Does the law firm have access to the Internet? The Internet is a great way to obtain investigative information on the defendants, including their assets, prior occurrences and other helpful information. The Internet also provides up-to-the-minute legal research. Law books and CDs may contain outdated materials. Do the lawyers have cell phones so they can be reached if your file has an emergency? Today's lawyer must be current on technology, and that technology must be mobile. Determine what resources the law firm has for handling injury cases. Does the law firm have access to trial equipment which has the capability to produce trial exhibits? Does the firm utilize case specific and professionally-prepared medical drawings to illustrate the injuries of their clients? Ask to see some examples. Does the firm have sufficient space in the office to prepare for a major trial or to prepare clients?
Many lawsuits have preparation costs, which can run into the tens of thousands of dollars. Does a law firm have the financial resources to take on huge opponents such as insurance companies, auto manufacturers or other national corporations? Ask them. Also inquire about their personal experience with powerful and wealthy defendants.
Finally, the lawyer handling your case should have well-trained and highly competent support staff. Does the lawyer have a good "contact person" that the client can always reach in the event the lawyer is temporarily unavailable? Does the firm have professional investigators available, with real-world experience and high-tech equipment?
If you have a serious personal injury claim, hiring an effective lawyer is critical. Before you hire a lawyer, you should ask: Is the lawyer a certified civil trial specialist? Does the lawyer have a solid reputation? Does the lawyer have experience that is relevant to your case? Does he or she have a strong track record for success, including success in the trial courtroom? Does the lawyer's firm have state-ofthe- art technology, competent staff, and resources sufficient to handle your case? Is the lawyer worthy of your trust?
Remember, you have the absolute right to feel confident in your lawyer's ability to provide you outstanding representation, from the moment you retain him/her, through the conclusion of your case. After all, the outcome of your case will affect the rest of your life.
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