If you’re looking to file a legal claim against someone else (or defend yourself against a legal claim) and there’s a possibility that your case could go to trial, a litigation attorney should be your first phone call.
But real life isn’t like Law & Order, and finding a good litigation attorney requires a bit of know-how.
That’s why we’re here to help. Here’s some important things you need to know before hiring a litigation attorney.
What is a Litigation Lawyer?
A litigation lawyer, also known as a litigator or, more colloquially, as a trial attorney, manages all stages of a civil lawsuit as a representative of a defendant or plaintiff.
This includes handling the investigation, pleadings, pre-trial discovery, trial, settlement trial, and appeals when appeals are necessary.
There are several types of litigation attorney, depending on the particular area of civil law the attorney focuses on. These include:
- Personal injury litigation
- Business and commercial litigation
- Civil litigation
What differentiates a litigation attorney from other types of attorney is their trial experience. Only about 2% of civil cases in the US ever make it to trial, which means there’s a critical shortage of trial attorneys, a problem the American Bar Association is trying to address.
Situations Requiring a Litigation Attorney
Of course, when you’re involved in a legal dispute and going to trial, you’re not thinking about the shortage of American trial attorneys. You just know that you need legal help.
There are certain situations that demand the help of a litigation attorney.
First, if you are named as a defendant in a lawsuit, you should promptly get in touch with an attorney. Professional disputes within a business, including an employee suing you for negligence, are reasons to speak with a trial attorney.
Another common scenario is if you’re injured in an accident, whether it’s at work or on the road, and you need to pursue your case with your insurance company.
In general, it’s a good idea to consult an attorney if you find yourself in a legal dispute, even if you don’t end up hiring them. Many attorneys will offer a free consultation that will give you a good sense of where you stand.
What to Look for in a Litigation Lawyer
If it turns out that you do need a litigation lawyer, there are a few things you should look for.
First and foremost, you need to find an attorney with experience handling your specific type of case. You could hire the best litigation attorney in the state, but if they specialize in personal injury and you’re dealing with commercial litigation, their trial experience won’t do you any good.
You also need an attorney with an outstanding ability to communicate with you and others. Most of your lawyer’s job involves communicating and arguing your case to others–if they can’t communicate well, your chances of success will be hindered.
However, they should be able to communicate with you just as well as they communicate with a jury. A lawyer that speaks predominantly in legalese is a lawyer that locks you out of your own case, making it difficult for you to make informed decisions about your next steps.
Factors to Consider
That said, there are a few factors you should consider beyond the attorney’s personal qualities. The biggest of these is their fee structure.
Generally, litigation attorneys bill their clients hourly, which means you’re billed for all the hours your attorney does work for you.
That said, litigation attorneys who represent businesses may bill differently, as business attorneys are often kept on retainer.
Questions to Ask a Lawyer
Once you’ve asked around to find a lawyer and identified a few potential candidates, it’s time for the initial consultation.
Remember, this is just as much about you interviewing the attorney as it is about them interviewing you. Don’t be shy about walking in with a list of questions–you’re employing someone for a professional service, and you want to make sure you hire the right person.
Here are a few questions to ask during your consultation.
How Many Years Have You Been Practicing?
One of the first questions you should ask is how long the attorney has been practicing.
Most people wouldn’t want to get surgery from a student on their first day of rotation. There’s a good reason for that. Similarly, you shouldn’t go to trial with an attorney who doesn’t have much experience under their belt.
It’s also important to find someone with years of specialized experience in your particular case. Someone with specialized experience will know the most recent changes to relevant law and will know how to apply them to your case.
Who Will Be in Charge of My Case? How Will it Be Handled?
You also need to ask who will be in charge of your case and how that case will be handled as time goes on.
This seems like an obvious question–wouldn’t your attorney handle your case?
In principle, yes. In practice, not necessarily.
Within a single firm, the skill level and experience of attorneys can vary greatly. Partners will have far greater experience than an associate.
Is your attorney handling the case himself or herself, or are they handing it off to associates and supervising them? How much will be handled by paralegals and legal assistants? When you have questions, will your attorney be available, or will you have to go through a paralegal?
No case is won by the work of one person. However, a trial lawyer has a better understanding of how the big picture affects the discovery process than a paralegal or inexperienced associate.
Do You Need a Litigation Attorney?
Choosing the right litigation attorney can make all the difference between a successful case and an expensive failure. And when the cost is so high, you can’t afford anything less than a top gun litigator.
Have a case and need representation? Reach out to us anytime for a free consultation at 972.544.6968.