How to Judge an Attorney

Before you hire a lawyer, exercise some judgment of your own.

You can and should be choosy about which lawyer represents you.

You just need to know what questions to ask.

What is your attorney’s specialty?

In some ways lawyers are like doctors.

Your family physician may be terrific with an ordinary illness, but if you need a triple bypass, you probably want a heart surgeon in charge. Now suppose you have a case involving legal or medical malpractice. You could pursue a lawsuit through a general attorney—just as you could, conceivably, have a family practitioner operate on your heart. But an expert in your special type of injury or legal problem litigation would know much more about your case, even before you got started. That expert would know the most common problems of the case and how similar cases have turned out and why.

Of course, not every legal matter requires such a high level of expertise. (For example, you probably don’t need a specialist to handle a simple will.)

With a more serious case, it is more important to have an attorney with directly related experience. If your attorney doesn’t have that experience, she or he should know attorneys who do.

Is your attorney civil?

We are not talking about manners here. We are referring to one of the most basic distinctions in the legal profession: the one between civil and criminal law.

Criminal law, just as the term implies, has to do with matters in which a crime has been (or may have been) committed. If you were in jail, you would need a good criminal lawyer.

Civil law, on the other hand, has to do with noncriminal matters, such as personal injury lawsuits. If you are suing for money damages it would be a civil lawsuit. And you could file suit even if no criminal charges were filed.

Again, not all legal matters require the same level of expertise. But in a serious civil matter, you may want an attorney who practices civil law exclusively.

If you are anticipating a lawsuit, you may insist on a civil litigation attorney, also known as a civil trial lawyer. Even if your case is settled out of court, a trial lawyer’s courtroom experience can have a positive effect on settlement negotiations.

How is your attorney paid?

There is a popular misconception that good attorneys bill by the hour, and that they bill a lot.

However, if you have a serious civil case, some of the best attorneys in the country will work for a contingency fee. That means they will be paid only if you win. For compensation, they receive a percentage of your settlement.

When an attorney accepts your case “on contingency,” he has an extra incentive to make sure you get the best possible settlement.

On the other hand, contingency fees have been criticized a lot lately. Some say they make lawyers too eager to settle too fast. And contingency fees are also blamed for crowded courts. But if contingency fees were eliminated or restricted, only the rich could afford good lawyers. And the American legal system would be a lot less democratic.

Is the firm well financed?

This is a sensitive issue, one that is hard to ask about, but it is important.

Although perfectly good lawyers can be found in struggling practices, the finances of a firm can affect your chances in court. A stable, well-financed firm can put more time and money into your case, even if they are working on a contingency fee. More time and money can mean more thorough research. Or testimony from experts with more respected credentials. Or better exhibits in court.

Also, financial insecurity can make the firm settle its cases too fast. (If your attorney recommended you accept a $50,000 settlement, you would want to be sure it was because $50,000 was a good offer, not because the firm needed its cut fast.)

What is the firm’s record?

Once you know a law firm has experienced, well-qualified attorneys, a solid financial base and good experience with cases like yours, try to find out what sort of settlements it has won for its clients.

Be forewarned, though: in some cases a settlement agreement requires that the case won’t be talked about. So the attorney will not always be able to tell you specifics.

Still, an attorney you are going to hire should be able to tell you something about the firm’s track record in cases like yours. If it’s perfect, it means that they do not try enough tough cases. If it’s not good enough to make you feel confident, you ought to keep looking.

A few words on Blaske & Blaske

We are providing you with this information. You might expect it to reflect our point of view. It does.

It reflects, most of all, our view that you deserve the most experienced, most capable—in short, the very finest—legal representation. No matter how much money you have.

It reflects our perspective as a firm committed exclusively to civil litigation (civil trial law). We accept no criminal cases, no divorces, no real estate, no general corporate retainers.

It reflects our commitment to doing everything we ethically can on behalf of our clients. We involve the most qualified experts—including other lawyers, if that is what the case calls for. We don’t begrudge time; we don’t pinch pennies.

In our view, there are lots of qualities you should seek in an attorney. In the end you should decide whether your attorney inspires one important quality in you: absolute confidence.