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.