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How to Select an Attorney for a Medical Malpractice Case

One of the first steps to take in proceeding with a malpractice claim is to choose an attorney to handle the matter. Recommendations from friends and family members, internet searches, and prior experiences all serve as good starting points. The ultimate goal is to find a reputable attorney who is established in the field of medical malpractice litigation, who has strong testimonial support from prior clients, and is a person with whom the client feels comfortable. It is also important that the attorney is in a position to invest the funds that are necessary to thoroughly manage the case. Medical malpractice cases are expensive to prosecute. A client does not want to retain an attorney who skimps in the case management by not being willing to advance the resources to secure the best available experts and to thoroughly evaluate the case. In most instances the attorney is willing to advance the disbursements. Virtually all medical malpractice cases in New York are handled on a contingency fee basis whereby the client does not incur any expense for legal fees or disbursements unless there is a recovery.

How To Interview A Medical Malpractice Lawyer

It has been said that "your case is only as good as the lawyer who represents you". There is a lot to be said for that. Once you have narrowed your search down to an attorney or law firm that you feel is suitable for your case, the usual next step is to arrange for a face to face meeting. Even the first telephone call to the lawyer's office to set up an appointment may be revealing. Are you treated courteously? Are you able to speak with the lawyer who you called? Does the person sound interested in the case? The first meeting will ordinarily occur in the lawyer's office although in extreme circumstances, where the client is expected to remain in a hospital for a protracted period of time or is severely incapacitated; the interview may be truncated and held at bedside or elsewhere. You should have your spouse and, if you wish, a friend or family member present at the first meeting in order to assist in the evaluation and selection process. Since the interview with the attorney will often be quite personal and sometimes emotionally painful and may take several hours, one interview with one attorney, particularly if he or she was strongly recommended or if he or she has obvious outstanding credentials, may be sufficient in order to feel comfortable in making a selection. Although one would hope that the initial selection of the attorney was a sound one, a client has a right to discharge his attorney in a malpractice case and replace the law firm with another without incurring any reduction in his share of the recovery. In other words, by firing a law firm and hiring another, the percentage of entitlement of the recovery for the client is not reduced by such process. The lawyers themselves have to work out how the legal fee is to be divided between them. Of course, this is not to say that one should casually select an attorney because he knows that the attorney can be discharged at will.

What to Look for in Selecting a Medical Malpractice Attorney

The process starts right when the client walks through the door or even before that, when the first telephone call or email communication is made. How is the client received? Does the law firm seem professional and organized? Is the office well-appointed and professional looking? Was the appointment set up with ease? Was the attorney available at the appointed time? Is there a paralegal or other attorney "filling in" for the attorney that you expected to see? How do you "feel" about that office and its staff? These general sense impressions are important. You want to feel comfortable with the lawyer that you select.
The interview will ordinarily begin with the attorney asking a great deal of questions with regard to the background of the client and the circumstances surrounding the medical care and treatment. It is essential that the client does not withhold any relevant information, or mislead, exaggerate or be anything but completely candid. The client should volunteer any information, even though quite sensitive, that might potentially be a problem even if not asked about by the attorney. All of the information provided to the attorney is confidential and the attorney is bound to honor that privacy.

During the meeting the client should observe whether the attorney is respectful to him and his circumstances, compassionate of the situation, familiar with the medical issues involved, and has the undivided time to spend in order to completely conduct a full assessment of the matter. If the attorney is repeatedly called away, interrupts for other matters, seems to have his attention divided -- all of these things should be considered by the client as the meeting progresses.

It is essential that there is a mutual degree of respect, understanding and rapport between the attorney and client. If the relationship is uncomfortable at the outset it is hard to imagine how things will improve as the strains of litigation unfold.

What to Find Out About the Attorney

The most important consideration in selection the attorney is to determine that he or she is indeed an experienced and successful practitioner in the field of medical malpractice. The elements that make up such background include the attorney's professional writing and teaching experience, recognition in the field, trial experience, successful resolution of cases, client satisfaction and disciplinary records. One can check out the disciplinary records of an attorney by logging onto www.courts.state.ny.us/attorney/AttorneySearch.

Steven E. North, Esq.
www.north-law.com