Tips for Finding the Right Civil Litigation Attorney

Most people who find themselves in need of a civil litigation attorney have one thing in common: they are overwhelmed. In addition to facing immediate financial burdens as a result of malpractice, personal injury, or losing a loved one, they are engulfed in feelings of fear and uncertainty, or even intense grief.

Amid all that anguish, victims are expected to find an attorney who will guide them through the intricacies of the legal process to achieve their objectives. But where do they begin? What criteria make one lawyer not only better than another, but better suited for a particular client in a particular situation?

Whether you’re currently in a situation that requires civil litigation or are just the kind of person who likes to be prepared, we have some suggestions on how to select the right attorney.

Look for civil litigation attorneys who genuinely listen

The first step in the civil litigation process is usually the same: you meet with an attorney, discuss the details of the case, and the attorney does an evaluation on whether litigation would be successful.

In that initial meeting, you, as the prospective client, should do most of the talking. The attorney’s role is to ask questions and listen.

Most attorneys will offer an initial consultation at no charge (if they insist on charging for that initial meeting, you should probably move on). That consultation may require only 15 minutes or so, but to fully understand your case and needs, it could take an hour or more of careful listening. Essentially, the meeting should last as long as it needs to.

After that first session, ask yourself these questions: The attorney might have been “hearing” me, but was he or she really listening? Was the attorney genuinely engaged in what I was saying? Was the attorney taking notes and probing for more details? Was the attorney’s focus on me and my needs, or on the clock?

The answers to those questions can say a lot. It’s been our experience that attorneys who listen and invest their attention in prospective clients are far more likely to stay attentive throughout the life of your case.

Look for civil litigation attorneys who will go the extra mile

Cases are as different and individual as people. Some are tougher than others. Some are more complicated and demanding. As a result, sometimes lawyers can’t accurately project how many hours and resources will be needed.

That’s why you want an attorney who is willing to go wherever the case leads and won’t simply follow the path of least resistance (for a quick settlement). Ask the prospective attorney about cases that turned out to be more complex than initially anticipated. Ask for examples where the attorney demanded more from obstinate defendants, or had to find a “creative” approach to win over a jury or convince the defendant to agree to more equitable compensation.

Look for civil litigation attorneys who know when to say ‘no’

There is something to be learned by asking attorneys which cases they don’t take on. Will they take on types of cases they’re not experienced in? (Our Ohio civil litigation attorneys are experienced in in wrongful death, personal injury, business, and legal and medical malpractice cases.) Will they decline a case because it doesn’t look easy or lucrative enough? Or do they turn nothing down?

That last one could actually be a red flag for prospective clients. It often isn’t in the best interest of clients to pursue cases that, for one reason or another, have little chance of succeeding, or don’t really involve civil litigation issues. For example, we recently met with a woman whose adult son died from head injuries sustained when he fell off the back of a pickup truck. The death was ruled accidental, but the mother felt strongly that the police investigation hadn’t been properly conducted. We understood her pain and anger, but it wasn’t a case that could be resolved by civil litigation. In this instance, we referred her to more appropriate resources that could potentially help her pursue her suspicions.

That’s what responsible attorneys should do. Whether through providing referrals or offering a sympathetic ear, we aim to help people who approach us, even if the answer isn’t litigation.

Look for civil litigation attorneys who understand the need for healing

Lastly, there are attorneys who look at a case almost exclusively in terms of the potential size of a monetary settlement. But for many victims, money isn’t enough to compensate for the damages they’ve incurred. Often the victims or survivors want to find answers and meaning in a tragedy that should never have happened. To that end, ask prospective attorneys whether they’ve ever successfully negotiated settlements that, beyond financial compensation, involved policy changes. Were they willing to negotiate for changes that would help correct the conditions that caused their client’s injury?

Civil litigation is about beginning the healing process. Attorneys who care about advancing that process tend to listen better and go further for their clients. If your initial consultation suggests to you that an attorney can’t meet those basic obligations, you have every reason to continue your search.

If you find yourself in a situation that involves malpractice, personal injury, or a wrongful death, don’t hesitate to reach out to us. We’re here to help.

The outcome of any client’s case will depend on the particular legal and factual circumstances of the case.

A Tragic Past Nurtures a Young Man’s Bright Future

By Rex H. Elliott, Partner

So many times, jobs are measured by mundane things; by the hours people invest in their work, by their productivity, by how much they get paid. And in our profession, by the cases we win.

Yet sometimes, something about your job grips your heart and reminds you why you chose your line of work in the first place. It reminds you why, far beyond a good outcome on paper, the best reward is knowing you’ve made a difference in someone’s life, a difference that is lasting and profound.

Something like that recently happened to me, and I’d like to share the experience with you.

A former client becomes my shadow

Most high school students in Ohio spend a day “shadowing” someone on the job. They follow an adult around for a day at work and get an idea for what it might be like to have a career in that particular profession. When our former client, Mark*, called us to see if his son could shadow me and some of the other attorneys at the firm, we were delighted. Mark had been a client more than twelve years ago, and we’d stayed in touch. Over the years, he gave us updates on how he and his son, Sam*, were doing. I came to know a lot about Sam as he grew up, though he knew little of me or the legal details that so greatly impacted his life.

Mark thought the time had come for those details to be revealed to Sam, and we agreed.

A devastating and preventable loss

I won’t go into all the details of the tragedy that brought Mark and our firm together many years ago. But very simply, when Sam was only a year old, his mother was killed by a drunk driver.

The man who took her life was picked up for drunk driving one night, taken into custody, and released by police officers less than 48 hours later. Not surprisingly (he had more than 10 OVI convictions), he went out and immediately became intoxicated again, got into his car and killed Sam’s mother.

Sam, now 14 years old, spent his shadow day visiting the past. He became familiar with the events that caused his mother’s death and the legal steps we helped his father take to secure their future and protect others from a similar fate.

Civil litigation goes full circle

We shared with Sam some of the court documents from the case and explained how his mother’s lawsuit had gone all the way to the Ohio Supreme Court before a just settlement had finally been reached. We took him to the courthouse and walked him through the steps of the lawsuit.

We wanted Sam to understand not only what had happened, but why. His mother had worked at an Alzheimer’s center, and that was her destination the morning she was killed. We knew she would want her baby to be taken care of in the event of her death—to ensure his life would be the best possible. We also knew Mark and his family hoped to make a statement, through the legal system, so that the circumstances surrounding his wife’s death would never be repeated.

Of course, Sam had no memory of these events. But there were tears in his eyes as the story was revealed to him. Not tears of sadness—tears of overwhelming emotion. He was caught by the powerful realization that his mother’s death had not been in vain, that it had led to procedural reforms that put stricter controls on how law enforcement handles drunk drivers, reforms that have undoubtedly saved many lives over the past dozen years.

I believe Sam was glad to finally learn the whole story. It was incredibly humbling to help him achieve an understanding that had been awaiting him almost his entire life. That knowledge came with a mixture of sadness and pride, for he had been part of a bigger story without even knowing it.

He felt that. And I felt it too.

The impact of this wrongful death case

Beyond the procedural impacts, the case allowed Mark to be a full-time father. It would have cost Sam a great deal to have to sacrifice his only parent’s time and attention to the heavy work schedule required to meet surmounting financial costs of raising a child alone.

Mark’s dedication to his son paid off, because Sam is a wonderful kid: He’s smart, personable and polite, an A student in school, and a multi-sport athlete. After college he wants to go into law enforcement, so he can personally protect others and spare them the tragedy and loss he has had to endure.

Why we’re civil litigation attorneys

Sometimes people ask me about the stress of being a wrongful death attorney—about the strain of seeing so much personal tragedy daily, and dealing with all the sadness, conflict, and frustration that are a natural part of the job. It can wear you down, if you let it.

And then someone like Sam shadows you for a day, and you realize again why your job matters. Victims of personal injury and wrongful death incidents need protection and compensation to help them rebuild their lives.

Sam is an incredible example of the good that can survive a tragedy. His caring and future accomplishments will continue to serve as a living monument to the memory of his very special mother.

Connect with us—we’re here to help.

*Names in this article have been changed to respect our clients’ privacy.

The outcome of any client’s case will depend on the particular legal and factual circumstances of the case.

What Motivates a Cooper & Elliott Lawyer?

The attorneys of Cooper & Elliott are a unique breed of civil litigation lawyers—and we’re kind of proud of it. The attorneys on our team have a distinct set of qualities and skills that we think give us an advantage when it comes to handling cases.

Thinking quickly and compassionately

To join our team, a candidate must have the things you’d typically expect: they need to be an exemplary researcher and writer and have excelled in law school. But our lawyers also must think fast on their feet. There’s no time to press “pause” when a curveball is thrown at you during trial. A great attorney has to be able to react quickly and seamlessly to make the necessary change. This is a quality all Cooper & Elliott attorneys possess.

We also require compassionate thinking. We hire lawyers with exceptional people skills, folks who are intuitive and sensitive to other people’s suffering. They must be able to communicate precisely and clearly, and they have to be able to connect with both clients and jurors by understanding and presenting difficult issues in high-stakes cases.

Our team members must also be courageous and have an inherent competitive streak. That’s something that can’t be taught; either you have it or you don’t, and to be on the Cooper & Elliott team it must be part of your DNA.

Righting wrongs

We get extreme satisfaction from righting wrongs, finding justice, and helping prevent others from enduring the same tragedies our clients had to live through. When we see that an injustice has been done, we are compelled to make things right—even if it means taking on challenging or unpopular cases.  We have filed lawsuits against churches, non-profits, and popular political leaders, not because we were eager to sue but because in each instance they had violated the law but refused to accept responsibility. Sometimes the pursuit of justice requires us to take action against a popular or powerful defendant, and when it does we don’t shy away.

Making a difference

The most satisfying cases for us are those where we had a significant, positive impact on our clients’ lives. Like the case where a garbage truck drove through the side of a client’s house. In the blink of an eye, our client was effectively made homeless, but because the insurance company felt the house wasn’t worth much due to a sewer problem, the amount they were willing to pay out wasn’t going to be enough to make our client whole again.

We knew the case wasn’t simply about obtaining money for repairs—it was about getting our client back into a livable home and getting his life back to where it had been before the accident. By understanding what our client really needed, and with some tenacity and creativity, our client ultimately received a sum that allowed him to move to a new home and put his life back together.

Getting personal

Getting to know our clients personally not only helps us understand how they’ve been hurt and what they need in order to heal, it helps us argue the case most effectively. Recently, we handled a case where a woman died as a result of negligence by the hospital that was treating her.

To prepare the case, we sat down with every member of this woman’s family to learn about who their mother had been—how kind she had been, how passionate she had been about her community, and how her senseless passing had devastated her entire family. We travelled to each family member’s home—from Florida to California—to look at photos of their deceased mother, hear stories of how integral she was in their lives, and to internalize how her wrongful death had impacted the entire family.

Only by getting to know these family members could we get to know their lost loved one. And only by getting to know this special woman through them could we effectively argue their civil litigation case in court.

Going above and beyond

Ultimately, it’s our goal to help our client meet whatever need has not been met by other means. For us, a successful case is not just about obtaining a large verdict or settlement, although we do work hard to do the best we can in every way for our clients. What really motivates us is a genuine desire to right wrongs, and to help each of our clients move past their loss so they can get on with their lives.

We come to care deeply about each client, and we care an awful lot about making sure wrongs are made right—not only for our particular clients, but for every one of us who might face the same situation in the future.

The outcome of any client’s case will depend on the particular legal and factual circumstances of the case.