Here are some factors and good points to look for and question your attorney about. Note that not every attorney will meet all of these criteria, but the significant absence of the following should be a big question mark.
• Experience – obviously, the longer you have been practicing a particular area of the law, the more you will know. Experience is a big factor in most cases.
• Experience actually trying or mediating cases — ask the attorney how many cases he has actually tried or mediated. When was the last time he was in court for any matter? Has he or she achieved any significant verdicts or settlements? Does he have a list of verdicts and settlements available that you can look at? Don’t accept the “All my cases are confidential” line! Has he ever appeared before the Court of Appeals or the Tennessee Supreme Court? The greater your number of cases actually tried or mediated and substantial verdicts and settlements achieved, the more likely the insurance companies will respect you. If he has appeared before the Court of Appeals or Supreme Court that is an indication that he will “really” fight for you. Past results are not a guarantee of the future but past results do demonstrate some level of experience and success.
• Respect in the legal community—does the attorney teach other lawyers in Continuing Legal Education courses?
• Continuing Legal Education—The Tennessee Supreme Court requires every lawyer in Tennessee to take a minimum of 15 hours of CLE each year. Ask how many hours the lawyer took last year. What subject matters were covered? Even the most experienced lawyers need CLE to keep current. I have found that the best and highly respected lawyers nationwide attend more CLE than they are required just to learn, get better, and network with other lawyers specializing in the same areas of the law.
• Membership in Trial Lawyer Associations. In our area, you can certainly find a lawyer who is a member of the Tennessee Association for Justice(TAJ), or American Association for Justice (AAJ). These organizations provide extensive education and networking for trial lawyers representing injured individuals.
• Publications—has your attorney written anything that has been accepted for publication in legal journals? This is another sign of respect that the legal community has for his or her skills and experience.
Ask the attorney if he or she is licensed in the state where your case will be filed. We believe that an attorney who is not licensed in the state where the case will be filed is at a disadvantage when it comes to negotiating with the insurance company. The insurance companies know who is not licensed and thus cannot actually try the case. We also recently ran across a horror story involving an out—of—state attorney who evaluated a Tennessee tractor trailer case. This attorney kept the file for over one year and gave it back to the client after the the statute of limitations expired in Tennessee. The problem was that the attorney told the client that he had one more year to file his case, but this was based on the statute of limitations in his own state. The client was then unable to file his case in Tennessee.
Lastly, will the attorney you are meeting with personally handle your case?