Experience. Longer is usually better. But you should ask questions that might give you clues about the quality of the experience. Does the lawyer have 15 years of experience or does the lawyer have 1 year of experience 15 times? A lawyer should grow and develop, and learn how to handle cases better, more efficiently, and more successfully. He or she should want to be the best lawyer he or she can be-not just the most successful. Ask about their trial track record. Ask if he or she has a greater number of verdicts in excess of the insurance companies’ best offers and any seven-figure verdicts. The disclaimer “past success is no guarantee of future results” is true. However, a track record of beating the best offer is a good indicator.
CTLA Membership. Your lawyer should be a member of the Colorado Trial Lawyers Association. Although this is no guarantee of competence, this is an active group of lawyers who work hard and share their experiences to improve themselves. Ask if the lawyer contributes and is active in the group regularly, whether by publication, lecture or participation in sub-groups like the Auto Litigators. If the answer is yes, at minimum he or she does more than just “talk the talk.”
Communication skills. How will this lawyer keep you informed about the status of your case? At our firm, we communicate with our clients regularly by phone and email. I have a Blackberry and frequently, much to my wife’s dismay, return emails or text clients with answers to questions long after dark or before sunrise. Does the firm have a communication policy? I make it my business to return all calls within 2 hours. Will the lawyer (and if you choose a big firm based on the TV personality- which lawyer) or a paralegal be the one actually working on your case? Make sure you understand who is actually representing you, and with whom you will be communicating.
Publications. Has the lawyer written any books or manuscripts for lawyers and clients? A lawyer who has taken the time to write a book and get it published is an indicator of respect that the lawyer has in the legal community. Likewise a lawyer who takes the time to write a book for consumers of legal services demonstrates his respect for potential clients and a desire for serving the community at large.
Peer review. Peer review is a voluntary process whereby the attorney submits the names of colleagues, including defense lawyers and judges, and their qualifications as part of the process. The peer reviewer then contacts these individuals confidentially and determines a rating of the lawyer. There are several organizations that conduct peer reviews. Martindale-Hubble and the National Board of Trial Advocacy are two organizations respected by lawyers. There are many others out there that appear to be peer review groups but in actuality are simply groups to which any lawyer with a checkbook can buy membership. The fact that a lawyer has or has not submitted himself or herself to peer review should not be a sole factor in your decision-making process.
Clean discipline and malpractice history. If the lawyer has been disciplined for unethical conduct or sued for below-standard client care, this is something you should know. Ask. Check discipline history by going to www.coloradosupremecourt.com. There you can conduct a quick online search for attorney discipline history.