A Personal View of How to Find the Best Lawyer

Big Book Ad

J. Burton Hunter III and Assocs, PLLC 2014 Big Book Ad

You might call this guy based on the ad, but, nowadays,

probably  NOT without out looking him up on the Net.

Personal injury lawyer marketing is a caricature.

Lawyers have found television to be a very effective tool in marketing themselves. That means that the lawyer has 30 to 60 seconds to establish a brand and generate interest. As a result, the greatest emphasis is on how tough and aggressive lawyer can be and how much money that lawyer will get for you from that greedy insurance company. The lawyers play right into the hands of the forces of our stereotype.  But, the “bottom line” is that it gets them business.

My question is, is there another way?

I would like to think so, and here are some ideas.

Since West Virginia runs at least five years behind the rest of the country in social trends, The Yellow Pages is probably the second most effective way (Next to word of mouth), in a small town, for an attorney to market herself for personal injury, family law, bankruptcy, and civil litigation.

At best, the person seeking a lawyer in the Yellow Pages has one page or maybe a “double truck”,  spread of two pages, attesting to the lawyer’s experience, dedication, and ability to “bring home the bacon”. My “Big Book” add is above. I am told that Duffy is the best part.

Since there is a lawyer on the “bad side” of every issue, whether it is civil rights, employment discrimination, criminal defense, or election disputes, is it any wonder that the average American dislikes and mistrusts lawyers?

Is it possible for you to follow a different model, or for  the potential client to follow a different process, in finding the right lawyer to handle the client’s personal injury claim?

I believe so, and am fortunate to have had a busy personal injury part of my practice for decades. The cost per person is too expensive for t.v., which may be why you see so few t.v. lawyers from Philippi, Grafton, Parsons, Buckhannon, Weston, and even Elkins.

What should a citizen from a rural county do if he has,a devastating fire,  a serious auto collision, or a major disabling injury at work? Where should he and his family turn? He/they will deal with the crisis of course, find another place to stay, try to recover lost items, and call their insurance company.

Assuming they, or the people around them, remember that they simply must consult a competent lawyer, what next?

What if that person, his friends or family, had heard of a local “general trial” lawyer, who consistently, day in and day out, provides solid, quality, work to the people in his area.

Could that lawyer, even with great experience and a wonderful staff, provide the representation that client needs?.

I think so, and here is my argument:

1. In my case:

a. if the lawyer has maintained currency in his profession,

b. with plenty of continuing education,

c. membership in several professional organizations, and,

d. an intense interest in law practice technology, the answer is an emphatic YES.

Using a.- d. above, I am very comfortable handling in office the traditional injury cases, auto-auto, auto-truck, auto-motorcycle, auto-pedestrian, and premises liability, also known as “slip and fall” when the case values are under $250,000.

For the more complicated or specialized cases, I have learned who in WV are respected experts on various subjects such as collision reconstruction, insurance coverage disputes, real property contracts, and medical issues.

I have also learned of the lawyers and firms with the best reputations among their peers, and the ones who will work with local counsel with honesty, competency, and respect, and the ones that seem “too busy”.

What does this mean, as a practical matter?

It means that the client can safely come to me with a $10,000 case or a $10,000,000.00 case.

The client gets a prompt, face to face, meeting, at home or in the hospital if necessary, with a senior attorney, not a junior associate or staff person.

If it appears to be a “traditional” case (see definition above), the attorney, client, and staff begin instantly the gathering of information and notification of the insurance officer of the claim. The advantage to the client is:

a. Having an attorney with experience:

b. Having him nearby, a member of his community;

c. A contingency likely to be LESS than the t.v. advertising firms;

d. A negotiated settlement, USUALLY WITHOUT THE FILING OF A LAWSUIT.

But, what if the case is much more complex? The typical medical malpractice case or “deliberate intent, industrial injury, case requires the attorney to advance anywhere from $20,000-$100,000 of litigation expenses and wait a year or two to be paid.

These expenses include:

a.  engineering reports,

b. medical experts,

c. Economists,

d. Vocational experts

e. depositions, and,

f. travel costs.

It makes sense to want the attorney handling your industrial injury case to have done dozens or hundreds of such cases,  just as you would to represent a brain-injured child.

If you begin with your small-town general trial attorney, you know he or she as a reputation to protect in that community, who is well-known by the people that community, and she cares deeply for the people, especially the children, of his community. Television and The Yellow Pages do not tell you that.

Some “case histories” can help to explain my ideas: specific details have been changed or left out in respect for  client privacy:

Scenario Number One

1 . A grieving mother contacts her family law attorney because her young adult daughter has been in a tragic rollover collision. The attorney takes the case, investigates, and negotiates a settlement for all available auto insurance.

2. The attorney realizes that this settlement will result in the child’s losing Medicaid insurance coverage and SSI benefits because her benefits are”means tested. So, the attorney calls  acolleague to help set up a “special needs trust” so these funds can be used for the young adult without causing her to lose her benefits.

3. The attorney then contacts a nationally known West Virginia firm experienced in handling product liability cases.  That firm immediately seizes the destroyed vehicle, has it evaluated by experts, and asserts a claim for a defective product. Testing of the seatbelt reveals that function properly, but additional testing confirms that the design of the suspension was defective. The result of the subsequent litigation was a negotiated settlement providing financial security for the young person and her family.

4. In these cases, total fees and expenses for the client remain the same because West Virginia law permits attorneys lawyers to associate in a transparent manner for the benefit of their clients. Direct referrals require little if any advertising by the firms so that she splitting makes lots of cents.

Scenario Number Two

1. The second scenario involves an older couple returning from vacation, when their struck head-on by a person who had worked too long that day in the heat and passed out at the wheel.

2. The resulting collision resulted in serious injury and hundreds of thousands of dollars of medical expenses to the couple, weeks of hospitalization, endangerment to the viability of the family business, and massive future potential medical expenses.

3. Although they had done exactly what there’s insurance agent recommended, and even purchased  “personal umbrella coverage, they received a denial letter from their carrier who informed them their coverage was less than their medical bills alone.

4. The couple determined to entrust their case to a small firm attorney who they know and trust.

5. Fortunately, claimants’ attorney had formed a relationship with one of the top insurance experts in the state, who analyzed the case and “found” additional “underinsured coverage” in a “seven figure” sum.   That was sufficient to lead to a negotiated settlement, preserving the family business, and providing a lifetime of financial security to the couple.

Subrogation Claims and Means Tested Benefits

These cases often have another central theme. In most of these cases, there are private insurance,  Workers Compensation, Medicare, or Medicaid subrogation claims. “Subrogation” means that the carrier can deman to be paid back when the claimant recovers from the “at fault party”.

Negotiating and paying subrogation claims, and keeping the claimant from losing “means-tested” benefits can be highly technical and time consuming, and when done well, it can save the claimants thousands of dollars. The “tortfeasor’s” carrier often uses subrogation claims to delay paying out the settlement. They love collecting the claimant’s interest.

Such cases required tenacity, experience, and innovation by the lawyer in order to get the client paid.

Scenario Number Three

1. The third scenario involves a family who lost the breadwinner of the family in a tragic industrial action.

2. Not knowing how to proceed, the family decides “to wait-and-see” as other families retained counsel and moved forward with their claims.

3. Fortunately, they happened to chat with their “family lawyer” in an unrelated matter, and within two days the widow was meeting face to face with the lawyer some people believe is the top “deliberate intent” lawyer in the state.

4. By making that connection, the “family attorney” helped the family get a large, out of court, settlement.

The Benefits of Counsel Associating

1. In these cases, the fee percentage is often the same as the client would pay if he hired the “specialist” directly, and he gets the benefits of two law firms, local and large city.

2. As lead counsel proceeds to gather information, notify the tortfeasor’s insurance carrier, file suit if necessary, and proceed with discovery, local counsel is able to help answer the family’s immediate questions, to deal with their creditors, to cope with daily life problems, and even to assist when family relationships became strained.

3. By having a local counsel with his or her finger on the pulse of the affairs, the lead counsel has somebody to help maintain the communication and keep the team working towards a common goal.

4. Claimant who has been represented by a proper combination of local and “specialized” counsel, using  well-trained experts, usually finish their case believing that they have been well-served.

5. A good result cannot be guaranteed in any case, but by playing the best odds, good results often follow. That’s better than hiring a lawyer you do not know.

6. Having a lawyer you can visit every week or two, chat with his paralegal and contact if lead counsel hasn’t called him back is invaluable.

7. Local counsel can keep lead counsel informed of personal crises in the client(s) lives. Often counsel can help the client solve these crises.

It is possible to find a good lawyer via t.v. or Yellow Pages, but why trust your life and livelihood to chance? Maximize the odds that you can find the best lawyer(s) for your case.


This post was written by Burton Hunter

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