How to choose a lawyer

TheCPLawyer® – Choosing a Lawyer

When seeking legal services, the process of choosing a lawyer usually begins by obtaining a referral or recommendation to a lawyer who concentrates in the type of law required. Lawyer referrals can be obtained through the state bar association, a trusted lawyer, or through an organization familiar with the legal issue.

Ken Stern focuses on medical malpractice and birth injury. For families who are currently seeking legal assistance to determine whether a child may be qualified to receive Lifetime Benefits, or to ascertain whether the child’s physical impairment is due to medical malpractice, Ken Stern, his law firm, Stern Law Group, PLLC, and/or their affiliated law firms throughout the country (subject to any limitations), offers a free Medical Legal Review of your child’s medical records. This review is provided by experienced lawyers, paralegals and occasionally, doctors and nurses. There’s no charge for the review and it can provide valuable information and a more thorough understanding of the cause of your child’s condition. If the Medical Legal Review demonstrates that your child’s cerebral palsy was due to medical malpractice, the child may be eligible to receive Lifetime Benefits. To learn more about the circumstances surrounding the cause of your child’s condition, and whether your child may qualify for Lifetime Benefits, contact attorney Ken Stern at .

An initial consultation is extremely helpful to client and lawyer both. Contracting a lawyer’s service is akin to forming a partnership of sorts; both parties have a vested interest in the matter.

To learn more:

These are detailed below.

What to Expect in an Initial Consultation

The first meeting between a prospective client and a lawyer is called an initial consultation. Essentially, each party interviews the other to determine whether they would like to work together on a case.

The client is determining:

  • if the lawyer has the appropriate knowledge and experience to litigate their child’s case
  • whether the benefits of pursuing Lifetime Benefits are worth the effort
  • whether they feel comfortable with the lawyer

The lawyer is evaluating:

  • whether they feel the case has merit
  • whether their firm has the resources necessary to pursue the case at that time
  • whether there are any conflicts of interest in representing the client
  • whether they feel comfortable with the potential client relationship

While the initial consultation is often free of charge, exceptions do exist. When scheduling an appointment, a potential client should inquire about fees. Lawyers have different fee structures for initial consultations, ranging from a free consultation to a discounted hourly rate or a set fee. In addition to inquiring about cost, the client may also wish to ask about expectations for the initial consultation.

Ten Questions to Ask When Scheduling an Initial Consultation

Some questions to ask the receptionist when deciding whether to make an appointment for an initial consultation include:

  • What type of law does the firm concentrate in?
  • How many years has the firm been in existence?
  • How many years has the lawyer been practicing in the field of medical malpractice?
  • Do the firm’s lawyers typically represent the prosecution or the defense in medical malpractice cases?
  • Where is the office located?
  • Does the firm offer initial consultations? In the office, or over the phone?
  • If so, is there a charge for the initial consultation?
  • What is accomplished in an initial consultation?
  • What items should be brought to the appointment?
  • What kind of fee structure does the attorney use?

Ten Items to Bring in an Initial Consultation

Appointment preparation will help ensure the case is properly evaluated for merit. A lawyer’s case evaluation is dependent upon the quality of information the potential client presents. Although the following items are not required, each can be helpful at the time of appointment, if available. The items include:

  • The mother’s health and prenatal records
  • The mother’s hospital records
  • The baby’s hospital records
  • The baby’s well-care visit records
  • Electronic fetal monitoring strips at time of labor and delivery
  • The baby’s APGAR (appearance, pulse, grimace, activity and respiration) score
  • The baby’s neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) records
  • Procedures performed during labor and delivery
  • Test results, diagnosis and information on any associative conditions
  • School records, especially Independent Education Plans (IEP) for the child

The client should not worry if these documents are not available at the time of initial consultation. If an attorney feels the potential client may have a case, and does not see an initial reason to decline the case early, he or she may seek client permission to order the medical records on the client’s behalf for further review.

The client should include any other items that were requested by the lawyer’s office at the time the appointment was made. A pen and paper – to make notes during the meeting for review at a later time – can be helpful, as well.

The Purpose of an Initial Consultation

The main purpose of the initial consultation is for the lawyer to assess whether he or she feels the case has merit to pursue Lifetime Benefits through litigation. The lawyer will also ascertain whether the law firm has the appropriate resources available to litigate the case. Both client and lawyer will evaluate the potential relationship for trust and competency. Important elements to establish include:

  • Communication process
  • Timetable expectations
  • Litigation process
  • Fee structure
  • Payment options
  • Expense responsibility

In the initial meeting, the client will provide the lawyer with a broad overview of the case. The lawyer will ask the client key questions about the mother’s health, baby’s health, medical records pregnancy, labor and delivery and health care. These elements assist the lawyer in determining merit and potential to successfully litigate the potential case.

The client may also want to ask questions of the lawyer, such as:

  • Was a mistake made? Can it be proven?
  • It there a legal claim to be made?
  • Are there any statutes of limitations that affect the ability to pursue litigation?
  • What are the chances of successfully litigating the case?
  • At this point, what is the estimated value of the case?
  • Are there any caps on awards or settlements I should be aware of?
  • How long will the process take?
  • What is the process?
  • What are the fees?
  • How does the billing process work?
  • How are expenses handled?
  • When is payment expected?
  • How is the attorney to be paid? When?
  • How are attorney communications handled?

Legal fees and cost structures should be agreed upon in writing before legal services are provided. Medical malpractice cases typically operate on a contingency basis, meaning the law firm receives a portion of the final judgment instead of requiring the client to pay fees during the process.

At Stern Law Group, PLLC, court costs and other additional expenses of the legal action usually must be paid by the client. The percentage fee will be computed before or after expenses are deducted from the recovery in accordance with state laws.

Other lawyers may charge an hourly rate for their services. Still, it is paramount that clients know what fees they may be responsible for throughout the process, as well as when and how they are to be paid upon settlement or award.

Ten Items the Lawyer Will Assess Before Agreeing to Take the Case

To qualify for Lifetime Benefits, a case must have merit that can be proven in a court of law. The anticipated economic benefit to be derived should far outweigh the estimated expense of pursuing the benefit.

Ten items the lawyer will likely be assessing before agreeing to represent the client, include:

  • Determining whether statutes of limitations has expired
  • Assessing if the case has merit that can be proven in court
  • Assessing the chances of successful litigation
  • Ascertaining whether any “caps” or statutory limitations exist that may restrict the benefits
  • Assessing the time constraints the case will place on the firm
  • Assessing the required resources and the risk the case may impose on the firm
  • Assessing capabilities to represent the particular client’s case
  • Establishing whether any conflicts of interest may exist
  • Assessing the client and his or her commitment to litigate
  • Helping the client determine whether the anticipated benefit justifies the estimated expense of pursuing Lifetime Benefits.

Both the client and the lawyer are focused on the benefits to be derived by the child. Not every child will qualify for Lifetime Benefits. But, for those who do receive compensation, the benefits derived can be utilized to offset costs of care, medical treatment, services and products the child will require to manage any physical and/or cognitive impairment over the course of his or her lifetime. Lifetime Benefits sought by an attorney represent an attempt to provide some measure of compensation the parent needs and the child deserves, given the circumstances.

If the lawyer agrees to represent the client, both the lawyer and the client will establish a fee structure for litigating and/or settling a case. At Stern Law Group, PLLC, court costs and other additional expenses of the legal action usually must be paid by the client. The percentage fee will be computed before or after expenses are deducted from the recovery in accordance with state laws.

Ultimately, the client will make the final decision on whether to pursue legal recourse.

Why Lawyers are Selective in the Cases They Choose to Litigate

Lawyers carefully consider whether they will accept or decline a case. They want to know whether the case has merit and whether they have the ability, to help the client pursue their child’s right to Lifetime Benefits. They also need to be reassured that the client is committed to pursuing a case.

The legal process requires expenses above and beyond staff time and operational overhead. There are fees associated with filing court documents, obtaining medical records, contracting expert services, and holding depositions, for instance. Malpractice cases can cost as much as $75,000, or more, even before reaching the trial phase.

Many lawyers will initially absorb this cost for the client if they agree to take the case on a contingency fee basis, regardless of whether the case ever makes it to trial. Even if a case goes to trial, there is no guarantee of a winning outcome. This is a risk the lawyer must weigh before agreeing to represent a client.

A law firm must also be certain no known conflicts of interest exist in representing the client. Staff availability and the ability to commit required time and resources are further considerations for the lawyer, as well.

For these reasons, lawyers are very selective in the cases they choose to pursue. By agreeing to take a case, a lawyer is investing valuable time, money and resources, which may or may not result in a case settlement, much less a verdict. Lawyers put considerable time and effort into evaluating whether the case has merit. If the case reveals merit, the lawyer then must evaluate whether the merit can be successfully proven in a court of law. If the lawyer feels the case can be proven in a court of law, the lawyer must feel confident the benefit derived will far outweigh the cost of pursuing the case; otherwise it will not benefit the child.

Equally important is whether the lawyer feels a positive client relationship can be established, and whether the client will commit to pursuing litigation.

Ten Reasons a Lawyer May Decline a Case

If a lawyer decides to decline a case, he or she will inform the potential client of the decision in writing. This is typically called a “close letter.” If a case is declined by one attorney, it does not necessarily mean that the case is without merit. This merely represents the opinion of the first attorney. The client is many times encouraged to secure a “second opinion” if any client doubt remains.

Ten reasons a lawyer may decline a case include:

  • The lawyer believes the case may be without merit
  • The lawyer may believe the case may be with merit, but extremely hard to prove in a court of law
  • The case has merit, and the lawyer has reason to believe the case can be successfully proven in the court of law, however the expense to pursue the case outweighs the benefits to be derived
  • The lawyer does not concentrate on the type of law required in the case
  • The lawyer does not have the capability, at the time, to add the case to their current caseload
  • A conflict of interest exists for the lawyer in handling the case
  • A personal reason the lawyer cannot handle the case exists at this time
  • The lawyer does not believe the client is committed to pursuing the matter
  • The lawyer does not have confidence in the client/lawyer relationship
  • The lawyer and the client could not agree on a contract, fee agreement or payment plan

Seek a Second Opinion

If one lawyer declines a case, the family is urged to immediately seek a second opinion. Since the law requires legal action within a specified period of time – after which the right to pursue legal action is lost entirely – time is of the essence.

If a lawyer does agree to represent the client, it is still up to the client to decide whether to pursue legal recourse.