Topics: Spinal Cord Injury, Legal

How to Choose a Spinal Cord Injury Attorney

How to Choose a Spinal Cord Injury Attorney

Collectively, lawyers aren’t always viewed as the most like-able professionals. It is true that there are bad lawyers, just as there are bad doctors and priests and accountants. Much of the backlash against lawyers, though, centers around the radical change they can bring to fruition for their clients.

Insurers and other entities don't like it when good lawyers cost their clients money, so don't buy into the anti-lawyer hype! The right lawyer has the power to change your life, protect your family, and zealously advocate for your rights.

If you have suffered a spinal cord injury, you need to act quickly. State statutes of limitations preclude old claims, with most states having a limitation of about two years. Once you hire a lawyer and file your suit, you're in the clear in terms of the statute of limitations, so don't delay! Before you sign a contract, consider these factors for how to choose a spinal cord injury attorney.

Experience With Spinal Cord Injuries

An attorney who boasts 30 years of legal experience and a degree from a top-tier law school might sound impressive. The truth, though, is that many highly experienced attorneys are woefully ill-equipped to tackle spinal cord injury cases. This area of the law is complex and highly specialized, and an attorney who has litigated hundreds of cases can still wreak havoc on your case if he or she has no experience with spinal cord injury litigation.

Ask about your attorney's spinal cord-injury specific experience. In most cases, you will be better off with a lawyer who has five years of experience litigating only these cases than a lawyer who has 20 years of experience but who only does general-purpose civil litigation.

If your lawyer is skilled in this area of the law, his or her legal record will reflect that, so ask about specific cases, clients, and outcomes. If the lawyer has litigated a case that is substantially similar to your own, that is even better.

Knowledge About Spinal Cord Injuries

Spinal cord injury litigation is complex, and while you can't expect your attorney to be a doctor, it's reasonable to expect him or her to have adequate knowledge to make quick and intelligent decisions in your case. At minimum, your lawyer should know which experts to contact, which hospitals routinely work with spinal cord injury patients, and how it typically takes to litigate these cases.

It is also helpful for your lawyer to be linked up with the SCI community. After all, your injuries are not the only reason to sue. You might eventually face disability discrimination or need to file a Social Security disability claim. Should that occur, a knowledgeable lawyer can refer you to the right attorney for your needs. Remember, no lawyer is able to litigate every type of case.

Continuing Legal Education

It's easy to impress you with a list of cases your lawyer litigated 10 or 15 years ago. After all, any attorney can get lucky with a few wins. The world of spinal cord injuries is constantly changing, and the legal precedent of today can render the legal strategies of yesterday totally obsolete.

Skilled litigators remain up-to-date on changes in the law by joining local bar associations, attending continuing legal education seminars, and reading relevant cases. Ask potential spinal cord injury lawyers what he or she does to ensure his or her legal knowledge is at the cutting edge of legal changes.

Quality of Legal Work

Humans have a built-in cognitive bias that encourages them to pay more attention to what people say about themselves than what they actually do. Counteract this by reminding yourself that some of the best lawyers undersell their legal skills precisely because they understand the complexity of spinal cord injury cases.

Rather than relying on overstated promises or lots of fancy-looking awards, ask your attorney about the outcome in his or her five most recent cases. Remember, even the best lawyers lose cases. What matters, then, is why your lawyer lost.

Did he or she forget to file something important, or fatally misread a new legal precedent. Or did the jury simply not buy his or her story? Reading through prior cases can take some time and research, but if doing so helps you win your case, it is well worth the effort.

Personalized Attention

Good lawyers often have a long list of clients and cases, so it's unreasonable to expect your attorney to immediately return your emails or always answer the phone when you call. Think about your own career; odds are good you frequently have to delay meetings or phone calls when something urgent comes up.

So don't judge your lawyer according to how quickly he or she gets into contact, and remember that in most cases, calling every day or even every week is  highly unreasonable.

Instead, look at the quality of information you receive when you do talk to the lawyer. Does he or she give you personalized attention? Clear and specific information? Does he or she make it clear that he or she understands your case? Does your lawyer correct you when you are wrong about the law, or simply stroke your ego by constantly telling you you are right?

Good lawyers are thoughtful critical thinkers who give your case their full attention—but only when it's time to turn their attention toward your case.

Professional and Personal Reputation

The world of legal advertising is increasingly misleading. Sites such as Avvo give users who pay them for memberships higher rankings, and irrelevant choices such as writing reviews for other lawyers can increase a lawyer's ranking even higher. Don't fall prey to these sites.

Instead, look at a spinal cord injury attorney's professional and personal reputation by:

  • Checking his or her reputation with your local bar association, to see if he or she has a disciplinary record. 
  • Asking for a list of references. 
  • Reading online reviews to see if any themes emerge, but remember that online reviews are not a definitive guide to the quality of legal services. Some clients leave negative reviews when they are angry they lost a case. 
  • Reading your lawyer's website to see if you agree with his or her legal philosophy and trust his or her knowledge. 

Resources Dedicated to Your Case  

Spinal cord injury lawsuits are complex matters that demand the use of experts, legal precedent, and often, legal workers such as paralegals and secretaries. Ask your lawyer who will be working on your case, and whether you can talk to them.

You should trust the entire legal team involved in your case, and feel confident in each individual team member's knowledge. You have final say over who is allowed to work on your case, so if you have any concern about the experts with whom your spinal cord injury attorney has chosen to work, raise these early in the process.

Free eBook When to Get a SCI Lawyer

Zawn Villines

Written by Zawn Villines

Zawn Villines is a writer specializing in health and legal journalism. Raised by a lawyer and lobbyist who advocated for spinal cord injury survivors, she is a lifelong advocate for spinal injury victims and their loved ones. You can connect with Zawn on Google+ below.

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