Most lawyers who specialize in medical malpractice law will either represent injured patients or defend against medical malpractice lawsuits, but usually not both. If you've been injured, you'll probably want to hire what's called a "plaintiff's lawyer."
If you don't already have a list of prospective lawyers, a great place to start your search is right here at lawyers.com. You can do a free search to come up with a list of lawyers by using the Find A Lawyer search box that can be accessed from anywhere on lawyers.com. (You should see a search box on the right side of your computer screen.)
There aren't a lot of medical malpractice lawyers, as it's a specialized field. And medical malpractice cases are complicated, risky, expensive time-suckers. Lawyers who handle them turn down a lot more cases than they accept, so finding someone who's willing and capable of handling your case may take some time.
One you have a list of lawyers, though, here's what you'll need to consider:
- Look at biographical information, including whatever you can find on Web sites for the lawyers and their law firms. Do they appear to specialize in medical malpractice? Do they have any information on their Web sites that is helpful to you?
- Lawyers who represent injured patients usually don't also defend against lawsuits in this area. The profile for the lawyer and his or her firm should give you an idea of whom they primarily represent. If you can't tell, call the lawyer's office and find out.
- Use search engines to surf the Internet. Can you find any articles, FAQ's or other informational pieces the lawyer has done that give you a level of comfort? Cross check your references by doing searches using key words such as "medical malpractice attorneys" or "trial lawyers."
- Check to see if the attorney belongs to personal injury trial lawyers' associations, such as the American Association of Trial Lawyers ("ATLA") or your state's trial lawyers' association. But it doesn't take much to pay dues and join, so check out whether he or she is an active member or holds leadership roles that suggest your lawyer has the respect of other medical malpractice lawyers.
- If you already have a working relationship with an attorney who practices in another area, ask him or her for the names of some good medical malpractice attorneys
- Ask other people if they've heard of the attorneys and what they think about them
- Contact your state bar association or visit their Web site to find out if the lawyer is in good standing
- Check out the yellow pages of your telephone directory. Does the lawyer advertise? If so, do you find it compelling? Helpful? Tasteful?
- Before you hire a lawyer, ask for references. You want to talk to people who could comment on the lawyer's skills and trustworthiness. Ask if it is okay to talk to some of the lawyer's representative clients. If privacy concerns prevent the lawyer from sharing the names of their clients, check your local newspaper's archives: you'll probably be able to dig up a few names of clients there.
- Check out the lawyer's track record. Ask what percentage of their cases are medical malpractice; the higher the better. Also find out what portion of cases go to trial rather than settle. If the lawyer usually settles, the insurance companies will know that and negotiate accordingly.
- Is the law firm financially solid? These cases require lawyers to dish out a pile of money up front for things like experts and medical research. Make sure they've got the resources to support that kind of cash outlay.
- Ask for a copy of the firm brochure and promotional materials. Crosscheck these materials against your other sources and references.
Consider any special needs you have. For example, could you benefit from an attorney who speaks a language other than English?
You shouldn't necessarily cross a lawyer off your list just because he or she didn't have the time to meet with you on short notice. Good medical malpractice lawyers are busy, so they may not be able to spend as much time as they would like with prospective clients.
You should also anticipate that the lawyer you hire may have to delegate a lot of responsibility to his or her staff. You should expect to be treated courteously and professionally by the staff and the lawyer.
Unless there are special circumstances, you'll want to hire a lawyer with a local office, or in the location where the malpractice occurred.
If you've been injured and have a good case, you should be able to hire a medical malpractice lawyer on a "contingency fee" basis. This means that the lawyer will be paid based on a percentage of perhaps 25 to 40 percent of what you may collect on a settlement, or on a judgment if the case goes to trial. There are many things a lawyer will consider in deciding on whether or not someone has a good case.
If you're having a hard time getting a lawyer, consider rounding up your medical records and having them reviewed by a health care professional. There are a number of good, caring nurses willing to help. Coming to a lawyer with the preliminary investigation already done could be a good way to get him or her to take your case. But if you keep hearing "Great case, but I don't have time," guess what? You might not have such a great case. Sometimes lawyers say that instead of arguing about the merits of your case because it'll get you out of their office or off the phone faster. It may be time to drop it.