The complexity of medical malpractice cases makes it essential to have a lawyer on your side. Proving that a health care professional provided sub-standard care is a difficult proposition, and most states have placed a number of procedural hoops in the path of medical malpractice plaintiffs, in an effort to discourage the filing of frivolous claims. A medical malpractice attorney will have the experience to navigate these requirements and get on to building your best case. But how do you go about choosing the lawyer that is the best fit?
Where to Start?
Medical malpractice law is something of a specialized field, owing to the overlap of medical and legal issues, as well as the unique procedural challenges that often come with these kinds of cases. Most lawyers who specialize in medical malpractice will either:
- represent injured patients (plaintiffs) who are suing health care providers, or
- defend health care providers against medical malpractice lawsuits (meaning they represent defendants).
If you've been injured by a medical error, you'll want to hire what's called a "plaintiff's lawyer." But keep in mind that experienced (and busy) medical malpractice lawyers often turn down a lot more cases than they accept, so the process may take some time. (Learn more: Do I Have a Medical Malpractice Case?)
Probably the best place to start is by asking for personal recommendations. Even if your family and friends don't know any medical malpractice lawyers, chances are someone you know has had a good experience with some kind of lawyer, and can put you in touch. Maybe that lawyer has an established relationship with an experienced med mal lawyer, and you can go from there. It may not result in a successful match, but it's a good start.
If you don't have any personal recommendations, and you just want a list of prospective lawyers near you, 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 local lawyers by using the Find A Lawyer tool, or you can get started on a free case evaluation by entering your ZIP code in the box above this article.
Narrowing Down the Field
One you have a list of potential lawyers, you'll want to pare the list down to a few solid candidates. Here's what to consider:
- Look at biographical information, including whatever you can find online that relates to the lawyers and their law firms. Do they appear to specialize in medical malpractice? Do they have any information on the firm website that is helpful to you? Maybe they've taken the time to write some plain-English articles or blog posts that help prospective clients understand what to expect. If these materials give you a level of comfort, that's probably a good sign.
- 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 the attorney is an active member or holds leadership roles that suggest he or she has the respect of other medical malpractice lawyers.
- Check for any online reviews of the lawyers you're considering (but keep in mind that many former clients will rip an attorney if their case is unsuccessful based on outcome alone, regardless of the attorney's role in that outcome, and whether or not it was a viable case to begin with).
- Contact your state bar association or visit the bar association's website 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?
Make Some Calls
Once you've settled on a few good candidates, it's time to contact them, either by email, phone, or through the firm's website (many firm sites have a "chat" feature these days, where you can type a message to a firm representative and get a response in real time, and start a dialogue that way.) Here are some points to cover:
- Ask what percentage of the firm's caseload is devoted to medical malpractice; usually, the higher the better.
- Find out what portion of cases go to trial rather than settle. If the firm has a reputation for settling, the insurance companies might know that, and negotiate accordingly.
- Ask for details on the attorney's fee agreement and payment of case costs. You should be able to hire a medical malpractice lawyer on a "contingency fee" basis. This means that the lawyer will be paid a percentage of any money collected through settlement, or on a judgment if the case goes to trial. Also, ask about costs. Will the firm absorb upfront expenses like expert witness fees, document preparation, and filing fees? (Learn more about the financial side of things in our Guide to Legal Services and Billing Rates.)
- Consider any special needs you have. For example, could you benefit from an attorney who speaks a language other than English?
- Ask about a face-to-face appointment if it's important for you to meet with the attorney in person, but you shouldn't necessarily cross a lawyer off your list just because he or she can't schedule a meeting 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.
- Ask about the firm's practice of delegating work to administrative assistants, clerks, paralegals, and other support staff. You'll want to know how much of the firm's work on your case will actually be done by the attorney.