I don’t know about you, but I am sick and tired of looking at all those lawyers who advertise on television and in the Yellow Pages, and I am a lawyer. I cannot imagine the frustration someone who really needs to find a good lawyer feels during a crisis and doesn’t know the first thing about how to hire the best lawyer for their case. That is the reason I wrote this book, to help the common person in a crisis created by a serious injury or death.
Almost all the Yellow Page ads say the same thing. “Free Consult,” “No Fee If No Recovery,” and then list a dozen areas of claimed expertise. TV ads feature slick or shouting lawyers who claim they are going to “win” you a lot of money – as if justice is nothing more than winning the lottery. One claims to be “The Texas Hammer,” implying that the giant insurance companies should somehow be afraid of them.
I can guarantee you one thing. The lawyers featured on TV are not the same ones that most trial lawyers see at the courthouse. Most of them couldn’t find a courthouse with a GPS. The smart insurance lawyers laugh to themselves every time they get a file showing one of the TV lawyers as opposing counsel because they know they can pay “bottom dollar” settlements, many times several years after the claim is filed. The insurance lawyers lick their chops, knowing they can drag out the claims against these types of lawyers because the TV lawyers are afraid of the courthouse and will refer the case out before ever thinking about trying it. The vast majority of Yellow Page lawyers are even worse.
Common Misconceptions About Lawyers and Lawyer Advertising
- All lawyers have basically the same experience.
- A lawyer who lists many areas of expertise is board certified, similar to what you typically expect when you see a doctor who specializes in a particular field.
- All lawyers have basically the same training.
- The bar association determines whether a lawyer can advertise that they are a “divorce lawyer” or a “personal injury specialist.”
- All lawyers go to trial.
- A lawyer who is good at divorce cases will be good at personal injury cases.
- If a lawyer advertises that they accept certain types of cases, they actually have experience with those types of cases.
- The lawyer who advertises will actually be the lawyer handling your case.
- A lawyer referral service is a good way to find the right lawyer for your case.
- Lawyers with full-page Yellow Page ads must be good attorneys, otherwise they couldn’t afford to pay for the ads.
- Lawyers who advertise on TV must be super-successful.
- Lawyers on “Find-A-Lawyer” Web sites are carefully screened for qualifications.
The Truth About Lawyers And Lawyer Advertising
Not all lawyers have the same training. Warren Burger, former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, once warned, “A lawyer is not qualified, simply by virtue of admission to the bar, to be an advocate in trial courts for matters of serious consequence.” Many lawyers continue their professional training throughout their careers. But for some, the last time they learned anything new about their craft was in law school.
The bar association does not determine whether a lawyer can advertise that they are a “criminal lawyer,” “DWI lawyer” or a “car accident lawyer.” There are virtually no restrictions on the types of law for which a lawyer may advertise. Once an attorney graduates from law school, they are allowed to handle virtually any type of case.
Not all lawyers go to trial. Some who advertise for personal injury or medical malpractice cases have never gone to trial.
- Not all lawyers have the same basic experience. This may seem obvious, but many people (and some lawyers) think “a lawyer is a lawyer is a lawyer.”
- A lawyer who is good at criminal cases won’t necessarily be good at personal injury cases. While this may have been true in the “old days,” today, the respective practices of both criminal and personal injury law are highly specialized. The same goes for just about every other type of law.
- The fact that a lawyer advertises that they accept certain types of cases does not necessarily mean that they actually have experience with those types of cases. Again, there are no strict rules against advertising for cases about which you have no experience. Not all lawyers who advertise in the Yellow Pages for malpractice cases, for example, have real experience handling a malpractice case. The same is true for car accident and truck accident cases.
- The lawyer who advertises won’t necessarily be the lawyer handling your case. Some lawyers advertise for cases simply to refer them out to other lawyers. What do they expect to get for this? A big, fat referral fee.
- A lawyer referral service is not necessarily a good way to find the right lawyer for your case. Lawyers pay to be on these lists and no one checks to see whether they have experience in their claimed area of expertise.
- A full-page ad in the Yellow Pages or massive TV advertising is not necessarily a sign of success. Some lawyers run a volume practice, hoping to make a little money off each case – usually by settling most, if not all, of the cases. Shockingly, in some offices paralegals handle virtually the entire case. The only time you see
the lawyer may be if their face is on TV or a billboard, or in the Yellow Page ad.
- Most Internet lawyer directories are nothing more than another form of advertising media. Lawyers are solicited daily to pay big bucks to have an “exclusive listing” as a personal injury specialist in a particular city. The big check they mail to be included is sometimes their only “qualification.”
- Unless a lawyer has tried at least four to five cases in the area in which they claim expertise, they may not be a good choice.
“Accident Victim Has Case Thrown Out Of Court Because Lawyer’s License Had Been Suspended”
“Lawyer Disciplined By State Bar Association For Ads That Showed Him In Court, Even Though He Had Never Tried Case To A Jury”
“Lawyer Who Runs Huge Yellow Page Ads Soliciting Medical Malpractice Cases
Swears He’ll Never Go To Court Again”
“Law Firm Disciplined For Deceptive Ads Showing Insurance Company Settling Cases On The Mere Mention Of Their Name”
“Personal Injury Lawyer Who Stole
$4 Million From Clients Sentenced To 11 Years In Prison”
Lawyer Advertising Is Out Of Control
It wasn’t until 1977 that lawyers were allowed to advertise. Before that time, in order to find out anything at all about a lawyer, you had to go talk to one. Then, two lawyers in Arizona got bold and began advertising “low prices.” Other lawyers tried to put a stop to this, probably so that they could keep ripping off people with high fees. The bar association tried to ban the ads. Their case went all the way to the Supreme Court of the United States, which ruled that lawyers could advertise.
When the Supreme Court said, “[T]he only services that lend themselves to advertising are the routine ones; the uncontested divorce, the simple adoption, the uncontested personal bankruptcy, [and] the change of name,” it obviously could not have predicted what was to come.
Almost 30 years later, lawyer advertising has gotten out of control.
Yes, lawyer advertising is out of control.
I looked through the Yellow Pages the other day. There were 72 pages of lawyer ads. Some ads covered two pages! One showed a horrendous scene of an overturned car with a helicopter flying overhead. One had a picture of a snarling tiger on it. The headline on another was “Cash, Cash, Cash.”
Just turn on the TV. All lawyer ads seem to say the same thing:
If you’ve been in an accident, call me. Quick! Right now! I can get you the money you deserve. It costs you nothing. I care about you!
I turned back to the Yellow Pages, looking for something that might actually help a consumer figure out if they really needed a lawyer and, if so, how to choose the right lawyer for their case. I was looking for solid information, not slogans. Instead, I found nothing but these meaningless mottoes:
“Major Accidents Only” “Settlements in 30 Days!”
“No Office Appointment-No Court” “Cash for Your Pain”
“100 Years’ Combined Experience” “Quick Settlement of Your Injury Case” “Aggressive Legal Representation” “Legal Help for the Seriously Injured” “We’ll Refer You to the Right Doctor”
“If You Have a Phone, You Have a Lawyer” “We’re the Law Firm That Cares About You” “Aggressive, Experienced, Compassionate”
“No Recovery-No Fee” “Free Consultation”
“Member of Million Dollar Roundtable” “The Law is My Profession”
“AV-Rated” “Highest Rated”
“Fighting for Justice in an Unjust World” “We Will Fight For You”
“Biggest Verdict in the City” “$5,000,000 Recovery in Car Wreck Case”
“Full Service Law Firm”
A Train Wreck Waiting To Happen
I have received many calls through the years from clients after a previous lawyer has dropped the ball. Usually, it deals with one of the TV lawyers who promised them the moon, yet decided that they were not too interested in the case anymore because it looked like the case needed to be tried. After reviewing the vast majority of these cases, I threw my hands up in the air and told the client, “I cannot help you. Your first lawyer has messed up your case so badly that the errors cannot be fixed.”
Here is a sampling of the problems I have found which have arisen from other lawyers’ screw-ups:
- The accident happened too long ago to file suit
under the two-year statute of limitations.
- The approaching trial was in two to three months and the expert designation deadline had passed.
- There were no photographs of the vehicles.
- There were no photographs of the accident scene.
- The lawyer had not taken the defendant’s deposition.
- The lawyer’s own client had been deposed, but the lawyer never ordered the transcript.
- The lawyer had never talked with the victim’s doctors about the case.
- The lawyer had failed to “prove-up” the medical records and bills.
The simple truth is that most lawyers are deathly afraid to go to trial. It is scary for even seasoned lawyers to try cases and requires someone with the confidence to risk everything. Most lawyers buckle and take what the big insurance companies say they will pay. If the lawyer doesn’t have the right stuff, then they are going to settle for the offer and go to the next case.
You can pick up the Yellow Pages and look at the lawyers who claim to have 15-20 areas of specialties, including “serious auto accidents.” The truth of this matter is that if any of the folks who have asked me to take over their case from their first lawyer had done any of the checking that we recommend in this book, they would have found that their first lawyer was not on anyone’s list of lawyers who are willing to do battle with insurance companies. You see, anyone can run an ad.
How In The World Can
A Consumer Tell The Difference Between One Lawyer
And Another By Looking At These Ads?
Much of the advertising I see on TV and in the Yellow Pages
disturbs me. It disturbs me for five reasons:
- Surveys show that many people have a poor view of lawyers because of the lawyer advertising they see! Advertising in poor taste makes all lawyers look bad.
- Lawyer advertising sometimes negatively affects the people who sit on juries. How would you like your lawyer to be arguing your case to a jury, only to have them remember that it is your
lawyer who flies around in a flying saucer in their TV ads? Or that they equate pain and suffering to BIG MONEY DAMAGES!!! Jurors watch TV, too.
- There is no way for the consumer in need of legal services to tell one lawyer from the other based on most lawyer advertising. The ads don’t give any useful information.
- Even if not false, deceptive or misleading, most lawyer advertising just isn’t all that
helpful to the consumer. What’s the difference between “buy this beer” and “quick, call
1-800-LAWYERGIMMICKNUMBER right now?”
- Some lawyer advertising creates unjustified expectations. If other lawyers advertise “One call – no court – settlements in 30 days,” then my clients want to know why I can’t do that for them.
I can’t change the way lawyers advertise, but I can help you make your way through the morass. Look, there are good lawyers out there – lots of them. You just have to do some work to find the right lawyer for your case.
Hey, what would a message from a lawyer be without a “disclaimer?”
Look, I can give you ideas and tips, and I personally guarantee that you won’t have wasted your time by reading this book, but I can’t guarantee you absolute success in finding the right lawyer for your case. I can’t even give you one absolutely foolproof way to get to the right lawyer, but…
Reading This Book Can Greatly Increase Your Odds Of Finding The Right Lawyer For Your Case.
You Need To Develop And Use A System To Find The Right Lawyer For You
First, let’s just forget about the ads altogether for a while. After all, wouldn’t you expect your lawyer to care about you? Be aggressive? Give personal attention to your case? Fight for you? Since all lawyers should do all of the above, we can safely come to the conclusion that:
Ads That Tout Such “Benefits” Are Absolutely, 100% Meaningless. Period.
Rather than taking your chances on a Yellow Page ad, a TV commercial or a lawyer referral service, you really should have a system for finding the right lawyer.
Does that sound like work? Well, it is. And it should be. Finding the right lawyer for you is very important. It’s not like getting the right carpet cleaner or pest control guy. If you are looking for a lawyer, it is usually because…
Something Very Important Has Happened Or Is About to Happen In Your Life.
It may be that you have been injured. You may be starting a new business. You may want to adopt a child. Perhaps you are going to be divorced. Whatever it is, it is probably at or near the top of our list of
Things That Are Very Important In Your Life.
It is work because it is important.
So, let’s take a look at a systemized way to find the right lawyer for your case. We’ll go over what questions you must ask. I will show you which organizations and “ratings” are important and which aren’t. After that, I’ll come back to teach you how to “read” lawyer advertising.
Finally, A System For Finding The Right Lawyer For Your Case
Step One: Start To Learn About Your Legal Problem
In the old days, the law was pretty much a secret. The ONLY way you could get your questions answered was to talk to a lawyer.
Now, with the advent of the Internet, there is no longer any excuse for anyone to not get a basic understanding of their legal problem. Search the Internet for frequently asked questions about your legal problem.
Visit lawyer Web sites. Visit chat rooms.
Visit other legal Web sites.
Now remember, I am not saying that all this information and advice you find on the Internet is good, but all you are doing at this point is collecting information – finding out “what ball park you are playing in” – even before you talk to a lawyer. Some of the information you find may be flat out wrong – that’s why you visit lots of sites. Obviously, it would be foolish to rely on information you find on any one Web site.
The purpose here is simply to move you along the path of knowledge so that you can make an informed decision about which lawyer to hire.
Next, you can go to the library or a bookstore for books about your area of interest. You can find all types of books discussing the legal problem with which you are concerned.
We Take Our Cases To Trial – Not!!!
Can you believe everything you see on TV? Phoenix, Arizona, attorneys Stephen M. Zang and C. Peter Witiner ran a huge print and TV campaign to market their four-year-old law firm. The campaign was obviously “successful” in that it produced over 1,600 personal injury cases in four years. Their ads contained the following tag lines:
- We are a personal injury law firm with the medical
experience to understand complicated injuries.
- We have investigators to find witnesses and
- Detailed preparation is a part of our law firm because the better your case is prepared for trial, the more likely your case will settle out of court.
- If you are in an accident, you need more than a lawyer’s words.
The ads were accompanied by dramatic scenes featuring a judge in a courtroom, books about accident cases and medicine, a large witness box or a picture showing one of the attorneys arguing before a jury in a courtroom.
This is what the Supreme Court of Arizona found when it examined the “facts” of the ads:
- From the time the firm was formed, no attorney at the firm had tried a personal injury case to conclusion.
- Zang, who was pictured in the ads arguing in front of a jury, conceded that he was not competent to try a personal injury case.
- The firm had a policy of not taking cases to trial.
- In cases where trial was necessary, the attorneys’ policy was to refer the case to real trial lawyers in other firms.
- The lawyers’ intention was to settle all cases, but clients were not told this.
- Clients were never told of the lack of experience or the fact that their case would be referred to other attorneys if a trial was necessary.
The lawyers were justifiably suspended by the state of Arizona
from practicing law.
Step Two: Start To Gather Names Of Potential Attorneys
Here are your sources of information. Remember, you are still in the information-gathering process.
Think about your problem. What have you learned about your type of case? Now, can you summarize your problem in 20 words or less? “I was in a car accident.” “I was hurt by a dangerous product.” “Killed in a truck accident.”
Do you personally know any lawyers in your area? They will be a good source of names. Even if your legal need is in another city or state, ask a lawyer you know and trust first. They will probably be able to either refer you to a set of names in the other venue or give you the name of someone who can.
Do you know anyone who has used a lawyer? At least then, when you call that lawyer, you can say, “Mary gave me your name and I am looking for a lawyer who handles XYZ type of case.”
Peruse the Internet. Do a search for [type of case] in [city or state]. Type “injury lawyer” or “car accident lawyer” or “truck accident lawyer” for the geographical areas that are close to you. Some examples would be “injury lawyer in Houston, Texas” or “truck accident lawyer in Katy, Texas.”
Look in the Yellow Pages. I recommend looking for lawyers who advertise only one or two closely related specialties. My experience is that usually a lawyer who specializes is better
than getting a “jack-of-all-trades” type of firm or lawyer. This is because in the last 20 years, the law has become more complex than ever before. Most lawyers who advertise they can handle 15-20 areas of specialization ranging from slip and falls to wrongful deaths to drug recall cases could very well be a law firm that is signing up the cases for the sole purpose of referring them out. For example, it is common knowledge in the Houston legal community that the leading advertisers shown on TV refer out almost all of their serious injury and death cases to other trial lawyers. They demand referral fees of 50% be paid to them from the lawyers to whom they refer the cases for handling. These lawyers don’t do anything, other than sign up the case. This is not the type of lawyer to hire.
On the other hand, many lawyers now specialize in just a few related legal areas. To illustrate, a lawyer who specializes in wills and estate planning may also specialize in elder law planning. A DWI lawyer may handle shoplifting cases. A trucking accident lawyer may handle car wreck and product liability cases. So, those ads that proclaim a long list of “specialties” or types of cases are not very helpful, are they?
Yes, you can even write down the names of the lawyers you see on TV. You can’t judge a lawyer by the media they use to advertise. Frankly, many firms that advertise on TV are running high volume practices, but I have never seen one that I consider to be reputable in the Greater Houston area.
Some People Put More Thought Into Buying A New Mattress Than Choosing A Lawyer
Indiana attorneys James Keller and Jack Keller ran four television advertisements from a national marketing firm which depicted insurance adjusters in a conference room proclaiming that an automobile accident case had to be settled just because of who the attorneys were. The insurance company appeared to be intimidated at the mere mention of the attorneys’ names.
The ads all featured actor Robert Vaughn. The Indiana Supreme Court found the ads to be misleading and disciplined the attorneys. First, they found that since there was no way of knowing whether an insurance company ever really settled cases with the law firm “just on the mere mention of their name,” the ads were misleading. The court also found that the celebrity endorsement violated Indiana’s Rules of Professional Conduct.
Editor’s Note: The insurance companies most definitely know who takes cases to trial and who does not. However, each case is settled or not settled, won or lost, based on its own individual facts and merits. While experience can be a major factor in making sure that the facts and merits are presented in the light most favorable to the accident victim, nothing will overcome bad facts. Thus, ads which suggest that the experience and reputation of the attorney are the major reasons why cases are won or lost are misleading.
Step Three: Call And Ask For Written Information (And Run The Other Way If They Don’t Have Any)
Call and ask for written information about the lawyers. Just like buying a high-priced consumer product, you are usually better off doing all of your initial research in the comfort of your own home. You don’t want to be subjected to any high pressure sales tactics, do you? Most lawyers offer free initial consultations in a variety of cases and flat fees or reduced rates for an initial consultation in other areas. That probably is not the most efficient way of getting information. The better course is to call and ask them to send you their “information package on YOUR TYPE OF CASE.” Ask them to send you anything they would like you to read which would convince you to hire them as your attorneys. Remember, while there are time limits for filing suit, in most cases you have time to do your research in the comfort of your own home and on your own time. (I told you this was work, didn’t I?)
Hint: Beware of any lawyer who phones you first or has someone else directly solicit you in person after you have been injured. In-person solicitation by a lawyer (or someone representing a law firm) who does not have a prior relationship with you is universally condemned.
Some lawyers may contact you by mail after you have been in an accident. No problem with that. You can just throw the letters away, if you want. But, the better practice (remember, we are gathering information) may be to call them up on the phone and ask them to mail you everything they have that
would be useful in deciding whether to hire their law firm. If they say, “The only way to get this information is to come in,” all you have to do is hang up.
After you have done your preliminary homework, narrow your search to three to five lawyers who appear to be experienced with your legal problem, make an appointment and interview them. There is no substitute for an in-person interview. No matter how experienced or successful they are, you have to feel comfortable with them. You have to trust them. Many will meet you in your home if you cannot travel to their office.
Remember, the best and most experienced attorneys usually have a line of people begging to hire them. They are usually very selective in the types of cases they will handle and turn away many more than they accept. They will not be insulted or put off by these questions. Rather, they will welcome them because they show you are taking steps to educate yourself. We’d all much rather represent someone who does this than someone who gets wacky advice from their cousin or neighbor.
Step Four: Now That You Have Arranged An In- Person Interview, Ask The Right Questions1
Here are some questions you should ask:
- How many jury cases have you tried to a verdict? How many cases like mine?
- How many cases have you tried where the jury has returned a verdict over a million dollars?
- How many years have you been in practice?
- Do you have actual experience handling my type of case?
- Where can I read about your other cases?
- What is the hardest part about my case?
- Have you won any large verdicts or settlements?
- Are you board certified by any state or
nationally recognized organizations?
- Are you chosen by your peers as a Texas Super Lawyer?
- Are you an active member of the Texas Trial Lawyers Association?
- Are you a member of the American Association for Justice?
- Have you ever been disciplined by your state bar association?
- What is the process for handling my case?
- Who in your office will be working on
- How will you keep me informed about my case?
- What is my case worth?2 Trick question. If the lawyer gives you a figure during your first interview, run. A good lawyer will tell you
they must thoroughly investigate the case first
and only then will they have a range in mind.
- Do you represent any insurance companies? You really need to know where their interests lie. Some lawyers do most of their work for the insurance companies. If they represent insurance companies, their passion is with the devil and they are a very dangerous choice because these lawyers become hardened over time and do not have the same passion for justice that you need for your case.
- Do you represent any corporations besides local “mom and pop” businesses? Again, if you are calling about an injury case, you absolutely want to find an attorney who is passionate about representing individuals – not big businesses.
- Do you spend 100% of your time representing individuals against insurance
companies and corporations working on injury cases? 3
- Do you regularly attend continuing legal education courses in your area of expertise? Tell me about the last one you went to (many lawyers never show up or read the materials).
- Are you a member of the Trial Lawyers College? This is a very short list of preeminent lawyers who have been trained by one of the most famous lawyers who has ever lived. There is only a handful of lawyers in Texas who are included.
- What is your Avvo rating? Avvo is the nation’s largest peer review rating service.
- Have you published any articles, guides or books for consumers or other attorneys?
And The Best Question Of All:
Who Else Should Be On My List Of Attorneys To Interview?
This is a great question because the names you see coming up time and time again when you ask this question are as close to a “sure bet” to be the right lawyer as you can get!
All good, competent, honest attorneys will freely share their information with you. These are the attorneys who have as much (or more) work than they can handle. If they won’t give you any other names – leave! It just may be a huge warning sign that they are starving for business – not a good sign.
Step Five: Rank The Information In Terms Of Importance
While you certainly would get a range of opinions on what is “most important” about hiring a lawyer, our clients tell us they rank the qualifications this way:
- Consistent results in the past. Yes, past results are no guarantee of future results, but the lack of consistent results in the past should be a warning sign. Yes, we all lose cases we probably should have won (and we’ve won cases we probably should have lost), but the lack of a track record of quality results is a deal breaker for most people. Don’t accept the excuse that ‘’this is all confidential and we aren’t supposed to talk about past results.” This simply is not true. Each week, the legal newspapers publish settlements and verdicts. Many lawyers also have this information on their Web sites.
- Experience. Simply put, the longer you have
been doing anything, the better you probably are at doing it.
- Board Certifications. The National Board of Trial Advocacy certifies lawyers and, as I outline later in this book, the process to
become certified is rigorous. The Texas Board of Legal Specialization also certifies lawyers. You want someone with AT LEAST ONE certification, but two is better.
- Being chosen as a Texas Super Lawyer. True peer ratings. Unlike most other “lawyer guides,” you can’t pay to be listed.
- Avvo rating is “Superb.” This independent service looks at factors such as honors, lawyer endorsements, client reviews, courtroom success and ethics. It is the largest rating service in America and rates lawyers in all 50 states.
- Active participation in trial lawyer associations.
Don’t Be Afraid To Ask About Results. Yes, Each Case Is Different And The Past Ones Do Not Predict The Future. But, The Lack Of A Track Record Of Significant Results Should At Least Prompt You To Ask More Questions
“Best Possible Settlement… Least Amount of Time”
The above ‘’tag line” on Indianapolis attorney Vaughn Wamsley’s full-page Yellow Page ad was followed by the statement: “My reputation, experience and integrity result in most of our cases being settled without filing a complaint or lengthy trial.”
The Indiana Supreme Court said that, “by claiming that he could obtain the best possible settlement in the least amount of time, the attorney likely created an unjustified expectation of such a result in any case that he handled.” The court found that the statement was misleading and deceptive.
The attorney was disciplined for making this statement.
We agree with the Supreme Court that, “when accomplished within ethical strictures, advertising of legal services facilitates the process of informed selection of lawyers by consumers of legal services. However, advertisements containing misleading or deceptive assertions make truly informed selection impossible.”
What Does It Mean When A Lawyer Is Board Certified, Listed As Superb In Avvo Or Is A Texas Super Lawyer?
Board Certification – National Board of Trial Advocacy
Board certification is a mark of excellence and a distinguishing accomplishment. Few lawyers in America qualify for the certification process in Trial Skills – which is, essentially, the ability to try a lawsuit.
We know that many doctors are board certified, but did you know that there is a national certification process for lawyers?
The National Board of Trial Advocacy (NBTA) certifies lawyers in a variety of specialties, including civil litigation. According to the NBTA, “No such mechanism existed for certifying lawyers prior to 1977. The NBTA is dedicated to bettering the quality of trial advocacy in our nation’s courtrooms and assisting the consumer of legal services in finding experienced and highly qualified trial lawyers.”
The NBTA is accredited by the American Bar Association (ABA) to certify lawyers in the specialty areas of civil, criminal and family law trial advocacy. The NBTA went through a rigorous application process wherein panels were chosen by
the ABA Standing Committee on Specialization to evaluate each aspect of NBTA’s structure.
The NBTA is endorsed and sponsored by many well-known national and international organizations. They include the American Board of Professional Liability Attorneys, the Association of Trial Lawyers of America, the Inner Circle of Advocates and the International Academy of Trial Lawyers. The Supreme Court of Minnesota has recognized that “NBTA applies a rigorous and exacting set of standards and examinations on a national scale before certifying a lawyer as a trial specialist, either criminal or civil or both.”
Board certification by the NBTA requires that an attorney:
- Be in good standing.
- Concentrate in the specialty of trial advocacy (i.e., they actually go to court).
- Submit a writing sample.
- Has participated in at least 45 hours of continuing legal education in the last three years.
- Provide references from three judges and three attorneys familiar with their courtroom abilities.
- Has been lead counsel in a substantial number of trials taken to verdict or judgment.
- Has been lead counsel in at least 40 contested
matters involving the taking
of evidence such as hearings, motions or depositions.
- Pass a six-hour trial technique evidence and ethics essay exam.
The United States Supreme Court said this about board
certification of attorneys:
There is no dispute about the bona fides and the relevance of National Board of Trial Advocacy (NBTA) certification. The [Attorney Registration and Disciplinary] Commission’s concern about the possibility of deception in hypothetical cases is not sufficient to rebut the constitutional presumption favoring disclosure over concealment. Disclosure of information such as that on petitioner’s letterhead both serves the public interest and encourages the development and utilization of meritorious certification programs for attorneys.
As of October 2010, there were 43 Texas attorneys who were certified by the NBTA. Of these, less than 10 typically represent injury or malpractice victims; the rest represent insurance companies. To check if a lawyer is certified by the National Board of Trial Advocacy, go to www.nbtanet.org.
Board Certification – Texas Board of Legal Specialization
Within the Texas legal community, board certification means an attorney has substantial, relevant experience in a select field of law, and has demonstrated and been tested on their special competence in that area of law.
A Distinguished Few
There are more than 70,000 attorneys licensed to practice in Texas, practicing in 17 different legal specialties ranging from probate work to oil and gas work to personal injury cases. Only 7,000 are board certified in ANY of these 17 areas of law.
The NBTA does provide a specialization in the field of Personal Injury Trial Law. Only a handful of board certified personal injury lawyers practice in Houston. Even fewer have a double board certification in courtroom skills on the national level (there are about 30 in the entire state of Texas) NONE of the TV lawyers have a double board certification.
Board certified lawyers earn the right to publicly represent themselves as a specialist in a select area of the law. In fact, they are the only attorneys allowed by the State Bar of Texas to do so. This designation sets them apart as being attorneys with the highest public commitment to excellence in their areas of practice. The process is voluntary and can only take place after an attorney has been in practice for five years, with a minimum of three years experience in the specialty
area. Moreover, board certification is not a one-time event. It requires an ongoing involvement in the specialty area which is periodically substantiated with references from peers in that field. It also requires annual professional refreshment through Texas Board of Legal Specialization-approved continuing legal education course work to stay abreast of current trends in law.
Easy to Find
Few Texas attorneys have answered the challenge laid down 36 years ago by the Supreme Court of Texas and the State Bar of Texas to “serve the public interest and advance the standards of the legal profession.”
What Is The Avvo Rating?
According to the Avvo Web site, an Avvo rating evaluates a lawyer’s background based on the information known about the lawyer. The rating is calculated using a mathematical model that considers the information shown in a lawyer’s profile – including a lawyer’s years in practice, disciplinary history, professional achievements and industry recognition – all factors that, in Avvo’s opinion, are relevant to assessing a lawyer’s qualifications.
Avvo periodically collects background data from multiple sources, including state bar associations, court records and lawyer Web sites as well as information that lawyers choose to provide themselves. But because Avvo is not able to collect every piece of information about every lawyer’s background, information that it does not have could very well change the lawyer’s Avvo rating. So whether you see the numerical or the basic Avvo rating, you should do further research on the lawyer to get the complete picture.
As explained on the Avvo Web site, an Avvo rating can help you find the right lawyer:
- Avvo claims it is unbiased. Because ratings are calculated using a mathematical model, all lawyers are rated by the same standards.
- There’s no favoritism. Avvo says that
lawyers cannot pay to change their ratings or favoritism factors.
- It’s developed by legal experts for non-experts. The model used to calculate the Avvo rating was developed with input from hundreds of attorneys, thousands of consumers, and legal experts.
- It’s easy to understand. It has simple ratings from one to 10 or “Attention” and “No Concern” in order to make the murky process of understanding lawyers’ backgrounds easier.
Even according to Avvo, however, the Avvo rating is not intended to be the only thing you should use when choosing a lawyer. It is only one tool and it is meant to provide a snapshot evaluation of a lawyer’s background so that you can more effectively compare different lawyers. Also keep in mind that the Avvo rating is based only on the information they have collected about a lawyer. That is one reason Avvo has provided a forum for both clients and other lawyers to offer their own opinions about a lawyer. Although those opinions may not be perfect either, they at least give you different sources to get started.
And of course, Avvo’s mathematical model has not met the lawyer in person. Because of this, their system can’t measure subjective factors like personality and communication style. Also, because Avvo doesn’t believe there is yet an accurate way to score it, the Avvo rating does not take into account a lawyer’s performance on particular cases or matters.
In short, the Avvo rating or the information in a lawyer’s profile is not all you should use to choose the right lawyer. It is only one of several tools that will make your search thorough.
What are the numerical Avvo ratings?
- 9.0-10.0 Superb
- 8.0-8.9 Excellent
- 7.0-7.9 Very good
- 6.0-6.9 Good
- 5.0-5.9 Average
- 4.0-4.9 Concern
- 3.0-3.9 Caution
- 2.0-2.9 Strong caution
- 1.0-1.9 Extreme caution
Please visit www.Avvo.com to find out information about any
lawyer you may consider hiring.
Texas Super Lawyers
The Super Lawyers magazine, which is published by Thomson Reuters legal publishers, has regional editions all across the US and is seen by over 15 million readers. Super Lawyers’ staff of lawyers undertakes what it claims is a rigorous, multi- phase selection process statewide. It conducts a statewide survey of lawyers, obtains independent evaluations of candidates by an attorney-led research staff and collects peer reviews of candidates nominated in their areas of practice. It also conducts background and disciplinary checks. Only 5% of the lawyers reviewed are included each year. If a lawyer is selected one year, they may not be selected the following year. This is another good source to look at during your search for the right lawyer.
Just What Are Those Ads Really Saying?
At this point, I’d like to explain some of the things that you may see in lawyer advertising. It is important to be able to “read” the ads in order to know what may be important and what is meaningless.
- “No Fee If No Recovery” – generally, this means that there will be no attorney fee payable to the attorney if your case is not settled or won. This does not mean that there will be no fees at all. There are many costs involved in a case, from filing fees to expert witness fees and, generally, the client will remain responsible for those costs.
- “Free Initial Consultation” – offered by almost 100% of personal injury, medical malpractice and worker’s compensation attorneys. This is standard practice and may take place in person or over the phone.
- Member of “Million Dollar Roundtable” or “Million Dollar Advocate Club” – technically means that the attorney has settled or won a case for $1 million or more sometime in their life. Remember, though, that one way to get a million dollars in a case is to screw up a $5 million case. Consistent results, not one lucky result, are what really count.
- The “Best Civil Lawyer in XYZ County” – an unethical and meaningless statement, since no one can prove it, even if it refers to a poll of
- “28 Years’ Combined Experience” – meaningless. There could be seven lawyers in the firm, each with four years experience and none with any experience with your type of case. You need to ask the right questions. Some law firms have been disciplined
for including the “experience” of their now-dead “founding fathers.”
- “Former prosecutor” – might be important if you are charged with a crime.
- Member of the American Bar Association – meaningless. All it takes to become a member is a check.
- “Former Judge” – meaningless. And, if used to suggest that the lawyer has influence over current judges, highly unethical.
- “Largest Verdict in the City” – may be important, but may also be meaningless. Again, you need to ask questions. It is usually considered unethical to state something like this without an appropriate disclaimer. Remember, consistent results matter.
- “We come to you” – meaningless. Everyone does this for the right case, but no one does it for every
case. (Although, there have been firms known to send a courier right over – with a contract for you to sign. Anyone who signs an attorney contract
or agreement without having personally met the attorney and asking the right questions has only themselves to blame.)
- “Experienced. Aggressive. Compassionate. We Care About You. We’ll Fight For You” – give me a break. Isn’t this what you expect your lawyer to say and do for you?
- “If you have a phone, you have a lawyer” – ridiculous.
- “You May Be Entitled to Cash for Your Pain” – ridiculous. This makes it sound like this is a Lawsuit Lottery or that you are “lucky” to have been injured.
- “Quick Settlements in 30 Days” – also ridiculous. If your case is so small that it can be settled in 30 days, then do it yourself and save the one-third attorney fee!
Here is a list of Web sites you may want to visit for initial fact-
finding information about your legal situation.
Lawyers have not paid
(and cannot pay) for a listing on:
(National Board of Legal Specialty Certification)
(Texas Board of Specialization)
Paid Lawyer Placement Listings
On the other hand, some services allow lawyers to pay so they can be recognized. Lawyers have paid for listings on the following sites and, by and large, there is no significant screening of these lawyers before listing them. Often, lawyers have paid either for “exclusive” listings on these sites or for top spots or banner ads. While there may be some decent legal information for someone on an initial fact-finding mission, we do not recommend any of these sites for actually choosing a lawyer.
A Final Word To The Wise
You know those 1-800-DAMAGES or 1-800-LAWYERS type telephone numbers? Be careful. In some cases, your call is routed through a call center which randomly sends your call to the next attorney “in line.” Kind of reminds me of used car salesmen waiting to pounce on the next unsuspecting customer.
In other cases, lawyers have bought “territories” for these “vanity” numbers. Even though you think you are calling lawyer Smith, your call is routed to lawyer Jones based simply on the zip code or area code from where you are calling. Think I kid? Go to www.hurt911.org.
1 You need to adjust your questions, based on your research, to your type of case. For example, you don’t need to know if the lawyer preparing your will has won any large verdicts. You need to know whether they have experience drafting wills. A social security lawyer need not have any experience in front of juries, but this is absolutely essential for any injury or malpractice case.
2 This is actually a trick question. In almost all cases, it is impossible for a lawyer to determine the value of a case on the first visit. This requires study and analysis of your injuries and other losses suffered. Beware of anyone who states, with any certainty (in all but the smallest of cases) the ‘’value’’ of your case on the first visit.
3 I am going to assume that the lawyer is actually licensed in the state where the legal work is to be done. I used to think this was self evident, until I started getting calls from lawyers not licensed in Texas who were “handling” difficult malpractice cases and now were in a panic because the insurance companies wouldn’t talk to them and the cases had to be filed.