Accident, Injury & Settlement Tips – I Want To Fire My Attorney!

A previous article in this series explored what your attorney should be doing for you in a personal injury (PI) case. This article addresses how to deal with an attorney who’s not doing what he’s supposed to do.

It’s always amazed me how some PI attorneys sit on a case. Think about it. PI attorneys are usually paid on a contingent fee – meaning, they get a percentage of whatever they can get for you. Why then would your attorney let your case sit idle? To be sure, the attorney’s overhead expenses aren’t sitting idle.

The answer falls neatly into two categories – either your attorney is too busy, or he’s too lazy. While the former is certainly better than the latter, neither is good for you.

Here’s the steps you should take if you suspect your attorney is too busy or too lazy:

1. Speak to or meet with a top PI attorney in your area to find out what a real attorney would be doing on your case.

These consultations are almost always free.

How do you find the top attorney in your area? Not on TV and not in the Yellow Pages. If you like, you may call me or email me and I’d be glad to help you. The best way to email me is to get your claim value by filling out the 10 questions in the Claim Calculator link below. That will give me both your email address and specific information about your case (amount of property damage, medical bills, wage loss, etc.) I’m able to find, through trial lawyer association list-serves and other means, the top attorneys in every area of the United States. I communicate directly with the attorney about your case particulars, and if he’s willing to meet with you, I connect you with the attorney so you can schedule a time to meet or speak about your case.

How do you know an attorney is one of the best in your area? Simple – he posts his million dollar results right on his website. Attorneys that I help people find are the best – their results speak for themselves. An attorney that doesn’t post their results on their website is not proud of their results. You can rest assured an attorney that has repeatedly recovered over a million dollars for individual clients knows how to successfully handle your file. Successful attorneys also have reputations that insurance companies are aware of. That reputation can make a big difference when the insurance company is deciding whether to settle for a reasonable amount or jerk around your lazy attorney until he persuades you to take a low-ball settlement.

2. Fire him or make him quit?

What happens if you hire him? It varies state by state, so check with the new attorney you meet with. Typically, attorneys are entitled to be compensated for the work they’ve done on the case up till the time you fire him. Usually, this is determined by the number of hours he worked multiplied by a reasonable hourly rate (based on his experience). He must release the file to you (it belongs to you). He may keep a copy of the file, but usually the ethical rules require the copying be done at his expense. The attorney can place a “lien” for the time he spent on your case – which is only paid if and when you get a recovery with your new attorney.

Important: If your new attorney really wants your case (and you ask for it), the new attorney will often pay the old attorney lien out of the new attorney’s 1/3 fee. In other words, switching attorneys won’t cost you anything extra. In fact, for the same 1/3 attorney fee you were always going to pay, you now have a much better attorney who will get you even more compensation for your injuries.

What happens if he quits? If your attorney quits, he can’t claim an attorney lien for the work he has done. If your attorney quits, you don’t have to worry whether your new attorney will agree to absorb the attorney lien within his contingent fee. And the new attorney doesn’t have to worry about fighting the old attorney on an unreasonable attorney lien.

A lazy attorney will usually grow tired of a client who persistently calls the attorney demanding proof the case is moving forward. Frequent calls to the attorney usually do the trick, although it never hurts to “pop by” the attorney’s office and ask to meet with the attorney, or if he’s not available, his paralegal. If no one’s available by phone or in person, insist on a day / time to meet in person. Tell them you’d like to review the entire file. When you do meet (or speak by phone), find out when the attorney intends to file suit. Filing suit forces the insurance company to hire an attorney (i.e. pay money). It also triggers deadlines the insurance company must meet. Without deadlines, the insurance company is happy to keep your money in the stock market – which is really how insurance companies have historically built wealth. That’s why insurance adjusters are trained to delay the claim as long as possible. By repeatedly demanding that your attorney file suit, or withdraw from the case so you can hire an attorney that will, you may be able to get rid of that lazy attorney.

Feel free to contact me (through the free Claim Calculator below) if you have any questions.

Going Legal – How to Find & Work With an Attorney For Your Small Business

Deciding Whether to Go Legal

As a former full-time practicing attorney and now a small business owner, I have been on both sides of the fence when it comes to the legal issues a business owner may face. This provides me with the distinct advantage of knowing when to call in an attorney for assistance, as opposed to using another professional, such as an accountant, financial planner, insurance agent, or business coach — or perhaps handling the matter myself. In addition, my background helps me to select an attorney that is the best fit for the business matter at hand. Many entrepreneurs have had limited experience deciding whether a matter needs legal attention and, if so, what type of attorney to retain, how to find the best match, and how to maximize the attorney-client relationship. As an entrepreneur, it is imperative that you understand when to “go legal,” and if you do, how to find and work with an attorney that is the best fit for your issue.

If you are confused about whether your matter needs legal attention or whether you can handle it yourself, try researching the matter on the American Bar Association’s Self-Help online center. Go to Public Resources, then Legal Help, and then Self-Help. The section is organized by state and is a user-friendly resource for determining whether a matter is complex and needs a legal expert, or whether it is something you can handle yourself.

In addition, a good business coach, especially one with a legal background, is a great sounding board to assist you in determining whether an issue is truly legal in nature, and if so, which type of attorney to retain. You would be surprised how many issues appear legal in nature, but turn out to be business decisions instead. So don’t be hasty when deciding whether to go legal!

Not All Attorneys Are Created Equal

So, assuming you have decided to “go legal” and retain an attorney, which one are you going to call? If you broke your arm, would you make an appointment with an allergist? If you had an ear infection, would you seek the advice of a surgeon? Of course not! Yet, everyday, many entrepreneurs contact and use attorneys to handle matters for their businesses that are completely outside the realm of what that attorney specializes in. Yes, attorneys specialize.

First, there is the main issue of whether your matter is civil or criminal in nature. Generally (and, thankfully!), the average legal matter an entrepreneur will face is a civil matter. Thus, you will be dealing with a civil attorney (hopefully in more ways than one). However, civil law is a huge umbrella. Typical small business matters may include incorporation, intellectual property (trademark, copyright, and patent), contract drafting and enforcement, employment or labor law issues, etc. Thus, look for an attorney that specializes in the area you need help with. Don’t be tempted to use your cousin, who is a residential real estate attorney, to assist you with a complex trademark issue. While this may be tempting in terms of saving money, it may (and often does) cost you more money in the long run if the matter is not handled properly. So match the attorney to the problem, and you are on the right track.

If you are unsure what type of legal issue you are even facing, speak up! Talk to a friend or business colleague that is an attorney, and ask his or her advice on the type of issue you are dealing with. You can also call the local bar association, or do some basic internet research to find out the area of law you are dealing with There are several sites that provide basic legal information for non-attorneys, such as Nola, FindLaw and at the Legal Zoom websites. This background research will arm you with enough terminology and basic knowledge to make the best match with an attorney whose legal practice covers the area of your business issue.

Finding an Attorney

So, now that you know the area of law, how do you find a good lawyer that practices in that area? The same way you find any other professional to assist you with your business. Referrals from friends, family and colleagues are a fantastic way to find a reputable attorney. You can also ask your local chamber of commerce, local law school, and local and state bar associations. Still can’t find an attorney that is a great match? Try Martindale-Hubbell’s Lawyer Locator online at http://www.martindale.com

Money Matters

If you’ve never worked with an attorney before, here are some basics of the legal profession with regard to money matters. Most attorneys charge by the hour, so ask what the hourly rate is, and an estimate of how many hours the matter may take. If the matter is small, or a typical one that the attorney handles often, there may be a flat fee for the entire transaction instead of an hourly rate. Be prepared to pay a fee for the initial consultation, which is standard, but not a hard and fast rule. In some cases, the attorney may require a retainer, which is money that you provide upfront that the attorney works off of as the matter progresses.

One thing to consider is that law firms are typically broken down into partners and associates. Partners are essentially co-owners of the firm, while associates are employees, albeit high level professional ones. Who demands the highest rates? Usually, the partners. Thus, ask yourself if you truly need a partner, or can an experienced associate handle the matter. Do you need the best litigator in the firm? Often times, the best litigator may be an associate that is still active in the courtroom, as opposed to a partner that may be more of a rainmaker bringing in business for the firm.

In some cases, for very small matters or legal research, even a law clerk or paralegal may do. Ask who is the best match, and don’t assume it is always the person whose last name is on the door.

Maximizing the Attorney-Client Relationship

I cannot emphasize enough the importance of accurate, concrete, and timely record keeping and documentation when preparing to work with an attorney, and during the relationship. An attorney will need to go on a fact-finding mission in order to best represent you and your business. Help your attorney do his or her job better by coming to the table with all of your ducks in a row. Be prompt in providing requested information, as often legal timelines are at play. Honesty is also vital when working with an attorney. The best attorney-client relationships are built on mutual trust and, thus, withholding information can make or break your case. An attorney needs all of the facts in order to make tough decisions with you about the best course of action for your business matter.

Hiring an Estate Planning Attorney – 7 Things to Know Before You Do

The Top 7 Things to Know Before You Hire a Wills, Trusts or Estate Attorney

You should consider several different questions before you sign an agreement with any attorney, but this is even more important when it comes to hiring a wills, trusts or estate attorney. This attorney will address sensitive family and financial issues that range from helping you pass assets on to your children and close family members, to protecting you from unnecessary taxes, to helping you determine the best person to make medical decisions on your behalf. This is why you need to know the answers to the seven questions discussed in this special report.

#1: Does the attorney offer a free consultation and will he explain what will happen at this initial meeting?

An attorney should offer you a free, no hassle consultation. First, meeting him or her will help to put you at ease and will give you a chance to discuss your case in a frank manner. You will also have a chance to ask questions and to determine if this is an attorney whom you can trust to address your legal concerns. Second, it gives the attorney the opportunity to ask you questions and to learn more about your case. You might discover that you do not get along very well with this attorney. Conversely, the attorney may realize that your case is not the type that he wants to take or is not related to his field of expertise. For this type of relationship to work in an effective and productive manner, both you and your attorney need to be able to work together comfortably.

#2 Does the attorney offer a flat fee for the services that he will perform and will this be put in writing?

Every attorney should use a written agreement, which is known as a retainer agreement. In this agreement, the attorney should clearly state the fee that you will be charged and honor this agreement. The attorney should clearly explain the fee, the services that he will perform, and should also clearly explain the options that are available to you to pay this fee. You should not sign this agreement until you understand how much you will be charged, what the attorney will do for you, what information he will need from you, any deadlines involved, and any other obligations that you are required to perform. You should always feel free to ask the attorney questions if you do not understand something in the agreement or otherwise. You should also ask about the expected completion of the work.

A flat fee encourages the attorney to work in an efficient manner and also prevents you from receiving an unexpectedly large bill upon the completion of the services. This can happen if it takes the attorney longer to complete the work than he initially thought.

#3 Does the attorney guarantee his service? Will he refund your money if you are not completely satisfied?

Your attorney works for you and is being paid to help you plan your estate. You should not tolerate an attorney that will not refund your money if you are not completely satisfied with the work. Additionally, your attorney should be willing to revise your documents that he is initially drafting. However, after he has drafted them and you have expressed your satisfaction, you should not expect the attorney to revise these documents unless you have kept the attorney on retainer. Please note that no attorney will guarantee results if your matter is being litigated in court.

#4 Will the attorney help you make wise choices about insurance, saving for your children’s college, and retirement planning?

Your attorney should help you make decisions about the most appropriate documents and vehicles to accomplish your estate planning objectives, but should also assist you with buying insurance, saving for college, planning for retirement, and all of the other challenging decisions that will arise. In fact, your attorney should have a team of trusted advisors in place in order to help you make the best possible decisions.

If your attorney is unable or unwilling to advise you on these matters, then you should seek out an attorney who will do so. Having such an attorney will prevent you from making expensive and unnecessary mistakes, and will save you time in having to hunt for additional advisors.

#5 Does your attorney have a process in place to respond to your phone calls and emails quickly in case questions arise? Will your attorney keep you informed about how your matter is progressing?

Your attorney should be able to answer your phone calls, emails, and questions quickly. You are paying this attorney for service and for professional guidance and attention, not just for the drafting of your estate planning documents. How often have you heard from friends and loved ones about an attorney that takes days, weeks or more to respond to phone calls? Do not tolerate such unprofessional behavior. Ask your attorney about this and if he is unable to convince you that he has such a process in place, then continue your search for an attorney that will get back to you in a time efficient manner.

#6 Does your attorney have a process for helping you capture and pass on not only your physical and financial wealth, but also your intellectual and spiritual assets, as well as what is important to you?

Some attorneys recognize that wealth is not measured solely by your net worth, by the value of your brokerage and retirement accounts, but is also measured by who you are as a person. Your intangible assets, such as lessons that you have learned over a lifetime of building wealth, or the wisdom you have accumulated through your life experiences that you would like your children to know more about, are very valuable, almost priceless. These should not be forgotten.

When deciding whether to hire an attorney, be sure to select someone who will help you capture, document, and pass on all of your assets, including those intangible ones that are often overlooked.

#7 Will your attorney make sure that your assets are structured and owned in the right way?

You could hire an attorney at the largest firm around and pay him an exorbitant fee, but if your assets are not titled and owned in the right manner, then the plan that he created will not work for you. The attorney that you plan to hire should be willing to ensure not only that your documents are drafted correctly, but also that your assets are structured properly.

Do not be afraid to ask these questions before you hire an attorney to work with your family on legal planning matters. When you find an attorney that says yes to these questions, hire him or her quickly before the practice fills up and he or she stops taking on new clients. Asking these questions and hearing the right answers before you engage a lawyer to work on your wills, trusts, and estate will ensure you put in place legal planning for your family that will work when you need it.