- How do I choose an attorney?
It’s important to select a Washington state attorney who is qualified to handle the issues in your case and with whom you are comfortable working. With the exception of patent law and admiralty, lawyers are not licensed as specialists in any particular field of law. However, many lawyers do in fact specialize and limit their practice to certain areas. If you don’t want your case to be on-the-job training, it is important to find a lawyer who has experience with your particular type of legal problem.
You should never be afraid to ask a lawyer about his or her training, customary areas of practice, and success in those areas. While confidentiality requirements may prohibit a lawyer from disclosing the names of current clients or facts of past settlements, cases that are tried to verdict are matters of public record. If you can find a lawyer who has successfully tried a case similar to yours, that lawyer is more likely to be qualified to handle your matter.
Reputation and Stability
Don’t be shy about shopping for an attorney or a law firm to handle your case. Select a lawyer or a firm with a reputation for being successful with your type of legal problem. Lawyers who truly concentrate their practice to a particular area of law know either personally or by reputation the other lawyers in your city or state who are known for their expertise in that area. When you interview an attorney about taking your case, ask the lawyer to give you the names of other attorneys who have a reputation for excellence in handling your type of case.
Serious legal problems that take only moments to create can take months or years to resolve. When the suit is complex and the damages large, your case will be vigorously challenged by your opponent’s well-financed and experienced lawyers. It’s important to choose an attorney or law firm with the resources and staying power go the distance. Finding an attorney or a firm with these qualities is a matter of observation and judgment. Does your prospective attorney appear to be successful and does he or she have a reputation for success with members of the community and the legal profession? If you would like to look at some of the types of cases we have handled and the results we have obtained, click here.
- What will a lawyer charge to represent me?
The way a lawyer bills for services usually depends upon the type of case being handled.
In our firm, we often agree to evaluate personal injury claims without charging our clients fees for our services. According to our state’s Rules of Professional Conduct, RPC § 1.8(e), clients must remain responsible for costs incurred in litigation. We bill our clients the costs that we incur in performing the evaluation. For example, if the evaluation requires us to obtain copies of the client’s medical records, we require the client to reimburse us for copying costs. If the evaluation requires us to consult with an expert, we pay the expert, but are required to pass that cost on to the client. If after the evaluation is complete, we accept the case, we generally enter into a fee agreement with the client.
When our firm agrees to accept a case, we may agree to handle the case for an hourly fee or a contingent fee. Hourly fees involve paying a retainer into our firm’s trust account, which is then billed against on a monthly basis as the work is done. The more hours worked by the lawyer, the more the fees charged for your case.
A contingency fee is based on the outcome of the case. In other words, if there is no recovery, there is no fee charged. If there is an award to the client, either by verdict or settlement, the fee is a percentage of the amount recovered. Sometimes, the percentage of the fee will depend upon when in the litigation process the case is resolved and whether our firm has advanced the litigation costs. We may agree to a lower contingent fee if the client pays the costs of litigation as it proceeds. In the alternative, our firm may agree to advance the costs of litigation.
Litigation costs are different than fees. Costs are the expenses that we must pay to pursue your case. Litigation costs include such charges as hiring expert witnesses and paying their fees, the cost of court reporters, fax, telephone and copying charges, travel expenses, filing fees, fees for service of process, witness fees, videos, exhibit models, etc. There are many other kinds of costs that may be associated with handling a particular case. Lawyers are required by the Code of Professional Responsibility (RPC § 1.8(e)), to advise clients that they are ultimately responsible for the payment of these expenses regardless of the outcome of their case.
It is important that you are kept updated on all costs and expenses. Whether our clients pay the costs as they are incurred or whether we advance the costs on their behalf, our clients receive a monthly bill itemizing all costs and expenses. Prior to the conclusion of the case, our clients receive a full written explanation outlining the fees, expenses and proposed distribution of all settlement/verdict proceeds for their review and approval. In a successful case, when costs are advanced by our law firm, the firm is reimbursed for these costs, plus interest, and our attorney fees, out of our client’s settlement or award.
- Do I have a case?
To answer this question, the attorney must have a thorough knowledge of all of the facts of your specific situation, the law applicable to that situation, and often, must have the benefit of an expert’s opinion to make that determination. For example, in a medical malpractice situation, it is often necessary to obtain an opinion from one or more physicians who actually practice in the field of medicine involved, before an attorney can know whether a case exists. Attorneys who tell their clients that they have a case before they have all the necessary information often do a great disservice. Even if, in the attorney’s opinion, the client does have a case, no attorney can guarantee that the case will ultimately be successful. The best assurance of success is a thorough, careful evaluation at the beginning of the case, followed up with an aggressive prosecution by a lawyer having experience with cases of a similar nature and the resources to pursue them to a successful conclusion.
If you would like to tell us about your case, click here.
- How much is my case worth?
Ultimately, a case is worth what a defendant will pay in a pre-trial settlement or a jury awards in damages at the end of a trial. Predicting what this amount will be is an inexact art. There are very few situations where an attorney can actually predict for a client exactly what a case is worth. However, an experienced attorney who has handled similar cases can usually determine a reasonable settlement range after the client’s medical condition has stabilized and the amounts of hard money damages such as medical expenses, wage loss and loss of earning capacity, have been determined.
To determine the settlement range, the attorney may consult publications known as verdict and settlement reporters, which give information on recent and past verdicts and settlements broken down by type of case, type of injury and jurisdiction. Local and national trial lawyers associations keep settlement statistics which they make available to their members. In our firm, we have a weekly case conference that is attended by the partners. Before we make a settlement demand, the case is discussed at Monday Case Conference to arrive at a consensus on the case’s value. The partners in our firm bring more than 150 years of collective litigation experience to bear in arriving at a determination of case value.
- How do I file a lawsuit?
Because the law is highly technical, it is usually best to obtain the services of a good lawyer to assist you with your lawsuit. The first step in filing a lawsuit is selecting that attorney. The next step is to meet with the lawyer to determine the terms of his or her hiring. The lawyer will then assist you by investigating the case, determining what parties may be at fault, and selecting the theories of liability that will be the basis of your suit. The lawsuit is then formally commenced by the filing of a document known as a complaint with the clerk of the court in the appropriate jurisdiction, and paying the filing fee. The complaint identifies the defendants, contains a brief statement of the facts, sets out your theories of the case and concludes with a demand for relief. A copy of this complaint, along with a summons to court must be served on each defendant.
- Who will work on my case?
The answer to this question depends upon a firm’s policy with respect to who actually will handle the client’s matter. You are entitled to know who will actually be performing the work on your case when you hire a lawyer. In our firm, we often work in teams – so it is likely that more than one lawyer or paralegal will be involved in your case. All of our attorneys are experienced trial lawyers who have worked on cases together similar to yours. When you hire one of us, you hire the firm.
- What do I have to do?
Help us help you. Give us all the facts and always be truthful. Keep us up to date with current addresses and phone numbers. We will always need to know how we can reach you. From time to time, we will need to be kept up to date on your medical status and progress.
You will have to help us answer interrogatories and gather documents. You may have to give a deposition, which is your testimony under oath subject to questioning by the opposing lawyer, usually done in the lawyer’s office with a court reporter and your lawyer present. We will help you prepare for this. You may be required to be examined by a physician selected by the opposing party or the court. Again, we will help you prepare for this. We employ videotapes and written instructions to assist us in preparing you for your deposition or independent medical examination.
From time to time during the course of your case, you may be required to sign papers, stipulations for release of portions of your medical records, answers to interrogatories and the like.
You may have to attend a mediation, which is a procedure that usually lasts half a day to a day, where an independent mediator (usually a lawyer) attempts to help the parties reach a settlement of the case before it goes to trial.
You will have to be in attendance in court should your case go to trial. This is your case. It is about you. You are the most important person.
- How will my lawsuit progress?
We like to think of a lawsuit as having five stages. While few lawsuits go through all five, it is important for the client to know what they are in deciding whether to bring suit.
Stage 1: In the first stage of a lawsuit, the attorney investigates the factual basis for the suit and legal theories of liability. To do this effectively, the attorney may hire investigators and expert witnesses, and obtain documents, such as medical records, that are necessary to evaluate the claim. Based upon this investigation and if the claim cannot be settled without a lawsuit, a complaint is prepared and filed with the court of appropriate jurisdiction, and a copy of this complaint is served with a summons on each defendant. The defendant is then required to file and serve an answer to the complaint either admitting or denying its allegations.
Stage 2: Discovery is the term that lawyers use when describing the second stage of the litigation. Discovery is conducted under the court’s rules, which allow both plaintiff and defendant to submit written questions called interrogatories to each other that need to be answered under oath. Oral questions may be asked of the parties or their witnesses in a process known as a deposition. Written documents may be obtained from the other side through a formal Request for Production of Documents, or from witnesses by way of subpoena. A party can attempt to focus the suit by submitting a document known as a Request for Admissions to the opposing party.
Stage 3: The third stage of the case is the pretrial motion stage. A motion is simply a request to the court to take some action with respect to the case or the opposing party. During this stage, the parties bring pre-trial motions in an attempt to have the case dismissed, the issues narrowed, to obtain discovery that was not allowed by the other party, or to establish procedures that will be used during the trial. Often cases are submitted to a mediation process at the stage when an experienced mediator can assist the parties in an attempt to reach a settlement. The parties often discuss settlement throughout the litigation process. Formal mediation is available where informal talks fail.
Stage 4: Trial. While it is true most properly prepared cases are settled prior to trial, we believe that it is best not to file a case in the first place if the attorneys or clients are unwilling to go to trial if the case cannot be acceptably settled. During the trial phase, the parties present their case to a judge or a jury through live witness testimony and exhibits. After hearing the evidence from both sides, in a jury trial the judge then instructs a jury on the law, and the jury then retires to deliberate its verdict. The time from starting the lawsuit to trial depends upon where the case is filed, and how the parties proceed with the suit. In many Washington counties, the time to trial exceeds one year.
Stage 5: Appeal. While most cases are settled prior to trial, few civil cases are taken up on appeal. In state court, there are two appellate levels, a regional or division Court of Appeals, and the state Supreme Court. The function of the appellate court is not to retry the case, but to review the record of the trial court and determine whether the trial was properly conducted. Following trial, there is a right of appeal to the first appellate level. A Supreme Court hearing is at the court’s discretion. The appeal process generally takes from one to three years.