When you think you or a family member may have been the victim of wrong doing, it can be an emotionally charged time. At Lundy, Lundy, Soileau & South, we are here to answer your questions and give you guidance. Below are some answers to common questions we hear. If you find yourself involved in a situation due to someone’s negligence, we strongly encourage you to seek advice. We will be glad to answer your questions on an individualized basis.
Have a question you do not see answered here? Feel free to email us, give us a call at 337-439-0707 or 800-259-1005, or make an appointment for a free consultation.
I don’t want to be one of those people that sue. What should I do?
We make every effort to pursue only those cases that are meritorious. We will not file a case unless we believe strongly that our client is in fact a victim with a valid claim.
How do I choose my lawyer?
Choosing your lawyer can be one of the most important decisions your family may make. When a friend or loved one is seriously injured, the choice of an attorney could very well mean the difference between recovery or failure. However, a surprising number of Americans do not have the information required for this critical choice.
Many people ask a friend or family member for recommendations when they are seeking an attorney. Although this can be a valuable source to begin the process, it should not be the end of the process. Just because a lawyer is great in one particular field does not mean that he has the required expertise in all areas of the law. If the friend or family member’s experience with that lawyer was not in the same area of the law concerning your case, beware!
Moreover, the law, like medicine, is broken down into many sub-areas or specialties. Even local lawyers do not always know who the top lawyers are in each specialty in the community. If you know an attorney, get him to ask around about lawyers in the particular specialty, which you seek.
One of the best ways to objectively determine the legal ability and ethical rating of a lawyer is to review his “Martindale Hubbel” rating. Martindale Hubbel is a worldwide objective legal rating service. Martindale Hubbel determines a lawyer’s legal ability and ethical standards by seeking detailed information from members of the same legal community in which the lawyer practices.
Judges, lawyers and other members of the legal community are sent information on various lawyers in the community. The lawyers who are being rated do not even know that they are being rated or by whom. In fact, there is no set time frame to have a lawyer’s legal rating determined. Thus, a lawyer may not even get a legal rating for a number of years after he begins his practice. Thus, the system cannot be manipulated.
Martindale Hubbel provides three ratings for lawyers, CV, BV and AV. The V part of the rating is the ethical rating and a lawyer will not receive any rating unless he gets a V. The C, B or A rating relates to the lawyer’s legal ability. Thus, a CV means the lawyer is good to high in legal ability, BV means the lawyer is high to very high in legal ability and AV means the lawyer is very high to preeminent. AV is the highest rating a lawyer can achieve.
How do I prepare to meet with my lawyer? What will I need?
There are many things you need to do to prepare to meet with your lawyer. In a personal injury case, it is important to gather all of the written documentation supporting your claim. Without the proper documentation, it will be difficult for your attorney to evaluate the merits and value of your case. Moreover, during your first meeting, your lawyer will likely ask many questions which can be answered by existing documentation.
Ultimately, as the person bringing a claim for personal injury, you have the burden of proving each element of your case. This includes both the liability and damage aspects of the case. Most cases are proven with a combination of testimony and written evidence. Thus, it is important to gather all of the available written evidence as early in the case as possible. This will help avoid the loss or destruction of valuable evidence which supports your case.
What is a Contingency Fee?
A contingency fee is just like it sounds. It is a fee that is paid contingent upon money being awarded. If no money is obtained by the lawyer in the case, then the client does not owe the lawyer a fee. If a monetary award is obtained, either through settlement or verdict, the lawyer gets a percentage of the total recovery.
The amount a lawyer can charge for a contingency fee is generally not regulated by law. There are some limited exceptions to this rule, including worker’s compensation claims or claims brought under certain federal laws like the Federal Tort Claims Act. However, because of competition, contingency fees are very uniform throughout the country. Usually, the more complex time consuming cases which require the expenditure of considerable costs by the lawyer will exact higher contingency fees. If the lawyer must risk substantial sums of money on risky cases, he will charge a higher contingency fee.
Also, if the case involves a trial or appeal, the contingency fee may be increased. In general, non- complicated cases which do not involve the expenditure of significant costs may bring contingency fees of 33 1/3% of the total recovery. If the case goes to trial that fee may increase to 40 %. If an appeal is involved, it may increase further. Medical malpractice cases, products liability cases and other complicated and expensive cases may start with a contingency fee of 40% and rise if a trial or appeal is involved.
The reason these fees are related to the amount of the costs expended in the case is usually because the client will not have to pay back any costs expended by the lawyer during the case if the case is lost. In medical malpractice and products cases, these expenses may amount to more than $100,000. That is a lot of money to risk on one case. Thus, the fee, which is contingent upon the outcome, must reflect that risk.
Some lawyers require the repayment of costs expended in the case if the case is lost. In such situations, it may be prudent for the lawyer to charge less of a contingency fee since his risk of loss is lessened. Some lawyers may charge one flat contingency fee regardless of whether the case involves a trial or settlement or appeal. In such instances, that fee may be slightly higher to compensate for those more expensive cases that do go to trial or appeal.
A common question raised by clients is whether the contingency fee is calculated on the total amount recovered or is it calculated on the total amount after the expenses have been deducted from the total. The answer in the majority of cases is that the contingency fee is calculated on the total amount recovered. If the costs in the case came out of the lawyer’s fee, expensive cases would pay the lawyer little or no fee for his time. Since a lawyer’s time and expertise are his trade, his compensation must be tied to those factors.
Moreover, if the costs came out of the lawyer’s portion of the recovery, a conflict of interest would arise because the lawyer would never want to spend the money necessary to properly work up and try the case since those costs would reduce his recovery. This is considered a fair arrangement since the client owes the lawyer nothing if the case is lost and the expenditures are high.
Finally, even if a contingency contract is agreed upon by the lawyer and the client, the client should be aware that if the case is lost and the court awards the costs of the prevailing party against the losing party, the client, not the lawyer may be responsible for those costs. Some lawyers do not clearly address this with their clients at the beginning of the relationship. However, the prevailing party is usually so happy to have won the case, and as a matter of professional courtesy, do not ask the court to award their costs against the losing party. This is an issue which should be addressed with the attorney before a contract is executed.