How do you choose the right lawyer for your case?
Your choice of lawyer will have a big effect on your life now and for decades to come. It can mean the difference between a large award, or no award. It can also mean the difference between feeling heard and respected while your case carries on—or frustrated and confused about why your matter was dismissed for a failure to state an actionable claim, due to the apparent expiration of a statute of limitations, or for other reasons.
Since you probably never made this choice before, you may want some ideas about how to find the right lawyers. A “gut feel” about how you will interact with an attorney is a good start, but there is more to it as well. Asking on-point, relevant questions about your goals and the lawyer’s approach and experience can help you make an informed decision.
Ask any lawyer you consider to handle your catastrophic personal injury matter to answer these questions:
How many years’ experience have you devoted to severe injury or wrongful death law?
Selecting an attorney is an important process that must be given ample time and research. One of the more relevant question a person can ask is about the lawyer’s experience handling matters of this type. After all, while both professionals are undoubtedly experienced and dedicated to their work, you would not ask an engineer to perform open-heart surgery.
An additional relevant inquiry involves determining the percentage of their law office that is devoted to each practice area. Does the attorney have a broad base of experienced or does he or she work in several different practice areas. Depending on your needs, either a focused or a broad base of experience may be the right decision for you.
At Reiff & Bily, we have only lawyers with decades of experience—more than 25 years each. Each lawyer is supported by a single legal assistant. There’s no sweat shop of young lawyers churning out cases here. We focus on severe cases, and we give each one significant attention and care.
How long have you been practicing law?
Understanding the education, experience, and background of your attorney is an important step in orienting yourself to what you can expect when working with that individual. If the individual has practiced for a number of years, they may be able to provide judicial opinions from cases they have tried or worked on. If you are interested in learning about the education and experience of Reiff & Bily personal injury lawyers, you can find our biographies here.
Have you been recognized by your peers and colleagues for your legal abilities or ethical standards?
Most lawyers are rated by their peers for both legal ability and ethical standards. For instance, Lexis Nexis publishes the Martindale-Hubbell review of lawyers annually. It is always important to ask your lawyer whether he or she has received the highest rating of AV Preeminent. Also, ask your lawyer if he or she is listed on avvo.com which rates lawyers based upon independent and unbiased client and peer evaluations. Understanding how your attorney is viewed by the legal community can provide important insights into what you can expect from him or her.
See our awards and other professional credentials here.
What is your reputation with judges and court system personnel?
Understanding how your attorney is viewed by the court personnel, judges, and other legal professionals is essential to selecting the right lawyer. While judges attempt to remain unbiased, the simple fact is that human nature makes us wary of those who have misspoke or failed to correct an error. Lawyers who have been caught being less than forthcoming to the court are likely face additional skepticism and scrutiny.
While it may be difficult to ask questions that gets to the bottom of this inquiry, individuals seeking a lawyer can look to other facts and information about the attorney to find a window into how he or she is viewed by the legal community. For instance, both Jeffrey Reiff and Raymond Bily were selected to sit as “Judge Pro-Tempores,” (volunteer civil judges) in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas Our attorneys acting in their capacities as Judge Pro Tempore evaluate the strengths, weaknesses, and values of personal injury cases brought before the Court of Common Pleas and have successfully adjudicated or mediated the same in the litigation process. See our awards and other professional credentials here.
What is your fee? What fee arrangements does your office offer?
Practicing attorneys generally charge by the hour, per a matter, or on a contingency basis. IFor personal injury matter, contingency fee pricing is typical. A contingent fee means that you only pay the lawyer if you receive some jury award or recovery for the damages you suffered. You will pay a percentage of the settlement or jury award to the attorney. It is important to understand the scope of the contingency agreement including whether the contingent fee is applicable solely to pain & suffering or if it applies to other damages, such as medical expenses, as well.
Furthermore, if the firm offers both hourly and contingent fee pricing, it can pay to ask for an estimate of the number of hours that may be involved and the hourly rate. However, if the injured party is unsuccessful in their claim, the legal costs may be overwhelming. This is a personal financial decision that must be carefully considered.
Finally, be sure to ask about whether there are any additional charges for interactions or services you may need during the course of the case. Will the office charge additional for phone calls, correspondence, or e-mails?
How many cases like yours has your attorney handled?
Experience is a tried and true teacher. Understanding whether a potential attorney has handled similar factual scenarios and legal issues is one of the most important questions to have answered. Experience matters. Many people seek an experienced lawyer who has handled hundreds or thousands of cases like yours for the peace of mind it can provide.
Ask your lawyer how he or she feels about alternative dispute resolution techniques like mediation and arbitration
All personal injury matters are unique and subject to their own facts, circumstances, and challenges. Some matters may be particularly well-suited to settlement through alternative dispute resolution techniques. Mediation and arbitration can permit for settlement earlier in the process and result in significant cost-savings for the client. However, not every client is interested in pursuing this option while others would be upset if their lawyer was not receptive to this type of approach.
While the client has the final say, you should strive to align your preferred approach with a lawyer who feels likewise. At Reiff & Bily, we are open to mediation and arbitration, but we prepare every matter as if it would go to trial. Generally, a more fully developed case is more effective as leverage in settlement discussions.
Will your attorney provide you with physical or digital copies of all papers, documents, and pleading regarding your claim?
Attorneys who are comfortable with the work product they produce will typically make relevant files available to their client. After all, the matter is the cleint’s and the lawyer is an agent or representative acting on the client’s behalf. Many sever injury attorneys understand that clients may want to seek a second opinion since this matter is incredibly important to them. Remember, the case belongs to you – not your lawyer.
Will the lawyer respond to phone calls personally? E-mails? Text messages?
There are few things as frustrating as a client as feeling like you are being ignored or pushed aside by your lawyer. Even if your lawyer is nationally or internationally renowned, there is simply no excuse for failing to return a client’s call or keeping a client in the loop. That said, different people have different communication styles and preferences. You should ask questions regarding your potential attorney’s communication style and preferences before picking a lawyer.
At Reiff & Bily, we always strive to return calls and e-mails by the end of the day or, in the worst case, within 24 hours. We understand that being involved in a lawsuit is already stressful and anxiety-inducing and strive to reduce your anxiety rather than contribute to it further.
Can your potential attorney provide client or peer references?
Ask for references from other clients or from other lawyers. Make sure that people have had a good experience with your lawyer. We always invite our clients to investigate the references of past clients, and welcome the opportunity for prospective clients to contact lawyers who have dealt with us or past clients. See what other clients have said about us here.
Our client and peer reviews are openly published and available online at a number of websites including avvo.com, lawyers.com, Google, and other reputable review sites. We have been nominated as one of the Top 100 Trial Lawyers in American by National Trial Lawyers and have received the highest ratings from our peers and colleagues on avvo.com and Martindale-Hubbell with an AV rating. We have also received a 10/10 superb rating on avvo.com. See more about our professional awards.
Pursuing a catastrophic or complex personal injury matter is a team effort. The most successful litigants are often the legal teams that can work closely with a client and inform the client about legal and factual concerns. Typically, a well-informed and confident injury victim will testify with more authority and is more likely to be believed by a jury or judge.
Aside from the above potential benefit, there are times when the lawyer may be out of the office or otherwise temporarily unavailable. However, you should be able to ask who will perform the majority of the work on your matter and you may not feel confident about an inexperienced attorney fresh out of law school handling your case. Litigants in Pennsylvania and throughout the United States typically only get “one bite at the apple.” Therefore it is essential to maximize your opportunity.
At Reiff and Bily, we understand the importance of each case to our client and do not believe in having junior associates with minimal experience who are freshly out of law school work on your case. When you come to Reiff and Bily, each one of the lawyers working on your case will have at least a quarter century of legal and litigation experience and is a seasoned personal injury lawyer. Our paralegals and support staff are some of the finest and most highly educated in the business each with decades of experience.
Has your lawyer ever received sanctions or ethical violations or disciplinary issues by your state lawyer’s disciplinary board?
Has your attorney ever been sued for malpractice? Has he or she been subject to criminal charges?
Your lawyer owes you the highest duty of care and it is important that you select a lawyer with the highest degree of morality, character, and integrity. Don’t be afraid to ask the lawyer whether he has been sanctioned by any courts, disciplinary agencies, or has any skeletons in the closet that may surface after your case is on the litigation track. Past disciplinary action can affect the lawyer’s credibility.
In Pennsylvania, a click of the mouse on your computer will take you to the website of The Disciplinary Board of Pennsylvania. The site can be accessed atwww.padisciplinaryboard.org. You can search the history of any attorney who has been admitted to practice and obtain information such as the attorney’s status or whether an attorney has been subject to public or private discipline.
Does your lawyer have a succession plan in the event he becomes ill or dies during the course of your legal claim?
Unfortunately, every person must face their own mortality. While the uncomfortable nature of the topic can cause some to shy away, a meticulous lawyer who puts his client’s interests first will typically arrange a succession plan should he or she pass away or otherwise be unable to continue pursuing the case. Don’t be afraid to ask your lawyer what will happen to your case if, God forbid, he or she sustains an illness such as a heart attack, diagnosis of a terminal disease requiring outpatient treatment, or, in the worst case scenario, death. Ask who will be responsible for your case to ensure a smooth succession.
What continuing legal education has my lawyer taken this year and in the past few years, and is my lawyer compliant with educational requirements mandated by the state Bar Association?
Many states including Pennsylvania require every active lawyer in Pennsylvania to take and satisfy continuing legal education requirements every year. Lawyers have to stay current with changes in the law, practice and procedures. We have to brush up on rules of professional conduct and professionalism.
The attorneys at Reiff and Bily generally achieve well in excess of the mandated CLE requirements. We maintain an active engaged presence in professional legal organizations, and travel throughout the United States and internationally to attend educational conferences and interact with our peers on a regular basis.
Does your attorney publish any articles, lecture, or speak regularly to professional groups or consumers on the topics of law that he practices?
The attorneys of Reiff and Bily regularly publish consumer-oriented articles to inform the reading public of interesting areas of law or interesting cases within their realm of specialty. The lawyers of Reiff and Bily also act as expert witnesses in areas or their specialty and have authored articles for national and local professional publications.
What is your attorney like outside of the office, what are his hobbies, and what is his personal situation?
When you select an attorney to represent you in a major case, you should expect to work closely together for at least several months, but more likely for a year or longer. Therefore, yu must make sure that good chemistry between the two of you is present. You can learn a lot about a person by asking them about their extracurricular activities. Don’t be afraid to ask if they have children, where their children went to school, or other questions of curiosity.
Although many lawyers may refuse to answer these, claiming that they are personal, at Reiff and Bily we believe that the engagement of a client is an important step and that every client becomes part of our family. We like to establish a common bond and make sure that there is good working relationship so that we can comfortably represent our client’s interests to the best of our abilities.
Make sure that you have an open and honest relationship with all of the people at the law firm that will be working on your case. If you don’t feel comfortable with them in the beginning it is likely that as you get further down the road and tensions and anxiety seems to rise, you will feel even less comfortable. This is important as the professional qualifications and skills of the attorney, the same can be said for their personality and your ability to get along with them.
Are my expectations reasonable and does your attorney have the professional and financial resources available to successfully prosecute your claim?
Sometimes, clients will come to see us with unrealistic expectations of the value of their case. They may have spoken to an “arm-chair lawyer” who happens to be a friend or relative who is familiar with television shows or soap operas about lawyers and tells them the claim is worth much more than it is.
Some lawyers will also promise or imply high awards to the client, and then after the client has signed the contingent fee agreement, offer excuse after excuse as to why the amount initially discussed is unachievable. When the client discovers that this lawyer is not doing a good job and tries to leave, the lawyer may sue the client!
At Reiff and Bily, we take pride in honest communication with our clients. Although you may not always like our estimation or opinion, we will tell you the “good, the bad, and the ugly” about your case at all times. We believe that an educated and honest client is the best client and we would rather undersell than oversell our services.
Is your attorney in a sound financial position to effectively prosecute your claim?
Many attorneys do not have the financial resources or abilities to go to a bank to secure financing for large cases. Other attorneys can become overextended due to significant competition for their time, attention, and resources. The knowledge that your attorney’s representation will not be hampered by financial considerations can give peace of mind and an increased likelihood of a favorable result.
After three decades of service and a successful track record recovering millions for thousands of clients, Reiff and Bily is in a secure financial position and will spend the necessary funds to hire experienced and credible expert witnesses to prove your claims. We do not believe in taking the “easy A” to shortcut your legal case and interests in order to line our own pockets before moving on to the next case.
Is your lawyer a talking head on billboards and television, or a lawyer who has personally litigated cases for decades?
We are all subject to the barrage of early morning TV commercials, commercials that run during daytime television reruns, and late night ads trumpeting the praises of many lawyers who have never even tried a case. Many of these television advertising law firms have 50 or 60 people answering phones. When the calls come in, they refer the cases to other lawyers, taking a percentage of the recovered fee. Alternatively, they have a stable of young lawyers handling almost all their cases.
When you are dealing with severe injury or the death of a loved one, you deserve experienced lawyers who can get an award that will compensate you for the loss of life’s dreams, hopes, and pleasures. This should not be delegated to a lawyer you do not know or feel comfortable with, or a low-level associate or recent law school graduate. Many of the TV “talking head” lawyers and their associates have rarely or never seen the inside of a courtroom.
At Reiff and Bily, we focus on just a few, very serious cases at a time. We turn away many more cases than we accept, so that we can give each client our best efforts and individualized attention in order that they may be represented to the maximum of our abilities. We are not a high volume “accident mill” law firm. Learn more about how we work.
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