1. Isn’t A Big Law Firm Better? Not necessarily. Certainly, big firms have partners with impressive resumes, a list of big cases they have handled, a snazzy website, and often an entire floor or two of a shiny high-rise building in a big city. But you should look at the realities of what all of that means to you. The partner with the impressive resume might meet with you during the initial conference, and might even promise you that he or she will watch over your case with the utmost of care. But once you leave the office, that partner might assign the bulk of the work on your case to a lower paid and less experienced junior partner, associate attorney or even a nonlawyer paralegal. The person handling your case from that point forward could easily be someone who has never taken a case to trial! The high profile cases the firm has handled in the past are not your case, and may not even be remotely like your case. Many of the biggest and most newsworthy aviation cases ended with mass settlements that were engineered by the airlines and their insurance companies, where the plaintiff’s lawyers barely had to lift a finger. And those fancy websites and Class A office space mean just one thing in practical terms: the big firm has huge overhead costs. The firm will have dozens of people on salary, a massive monthly mortgage or lease payment, and innumerable other support expenses that come due on a regular basis. The only way to cover regular payments of that size is with continuous cash flow. Some law firms handling plaintiff cases create that cash flow by carrying heavy caseloads and settling cases early, often and cheaply at the amounts that the insurance companies want to pay. That often means that the attention your case receives will be diluted by the myriad other cases each staff attorney is trying to handle. And when the insurance company on the other side of your case dangles a “lowball” offer in front of the firm just when the payroll or rent payment is due, well, you know how that story ends.
2. Aren’t A Big Firm’s Expensive Support Aids Going To Help My Case? Not necessarily. They make the lawyers’ jobs easier, but the court and jury that will decide your case couldn’t care less about them. To be successful, a lawyer needs very little of a material nature. At the end of the day, it’s the lawyer’s skill, experience, knowledge and desire to win that count the most.
3. But Won’t The Big-Name Partner Be The One Who Tries the Case? Maybe, if you get that far and don’t get strong-armed into accepting a settlement that the big firm wants you to take so they can pay their own bills. And the partner might even be a good trial lawyer. But just because the partner is with a big firm does not mean that he or she will command respect in the courtroom. Judges and juries pay attention to a lawyer because of what the lawyer brings into the trial, not because of his or her pedigree. Many seasoned trial lawyers have amusing stories about the “big-name” partner from the huge firm who showed up to a trial for the first time in his career and had to be told what to do by the less famous trial lawyers. The courtroom scene in Legally Blonde is fictional, of course, but we have seen real-life scenarios nearly as shocking.
4. Do I Have To Hire A Lawyer Near Me? Not initially, and possibly not at all. In today’s world, much of the work of a plaintiff’s lawyer can be done electronically, from anywhere. It is not at all uncommon for a client to hire a lawyer with aviation expertise first, even if that lawyer is in another state, and then to hire “local counsel” just prior to filing suit. The local counsel works with the aviation lawyer in presenting the case to the local court, and often helps the aviation lawyer to obtain special admission to the court for that case, so that the aviation attorney can be the main counsel. The two lawyers negotiate a division of the aviation lawyer’s contingency fee (see below), so the client does not pay anything additional for the local counsel. John maintains a list of good local counsel in many localities with whom he can associate as local counsel. In addition, John’s admission to eight states means that local counsel is unnecessary for cases filed in California, Colorado, Florida, Maine, New York, Virginia, Florida and West Virginia. It is often possible to file suit in one of those states even if the accident or injury occurred elsewhere, by virtue of the specific jurisdiction clauses of the Montreal Convention or because the defendant airline or another company does business there.
5. What About Fees? John typically takes cases on a contingency fee, which means that he earns a fee that is based on a percentage of the ultimate recovery, but earns no fee if the case does not win. The amount of the fee is negotiated with you at the beginning of the attorney-client relationship. There will always be a written fee agreement setting forth all of the negotiated terms in plain language, and you will have ample time to study it before making your decision.
6. Will I Have To Pay Any Costs? Ultimately, yes, but hopefully as a relatively small deduction from your net recovery. Lawyers are regulated by rules of professional responsibility, which are designed for the protection of clients and the integrity of the legal system. Those rules require us to explain to you that you must remain ultimately responsible for the out-of-pocket costs incurred in the prosecution of a case, even if your case is not successful. Any lawyer who tells you that you don’t ever have to worry about the costs of your case may be misleading you or violating ethical rules, and quite possibly both. You don’t want a lawyer who violates your trust, no matter how attractive it might initially sound to get a free ride on the costs of your case.
7. So, What Are These Costs? The costs incurred in a typical personal injury case often include the court’s filing fees, service of process fees, fees associated with taking depositions and hiring court reporters, investigators’ fees, travel expenses, expert witness fees, and such things as copies and video presentations. How and when the costs arise is something that can differ depending on the particular facts of the case. There are sometimes costs that the law firm can advance on your behalf, and sometimes costs that you need to be willing to pay in advance. John is happy to work with you to find arrangements for handling these costs within your budget, and sometimes providers will agree to defer payment until after the trial, so that a portion of any recovery can be used to settle them.
8. Will I Have To Testify? Probably. There are two times that a client typically must testify: once at a deposition and once at trial. A deposition occurs during the pretrial “discovery” phase, usually several months after the filing of the case. Depositions are held in attorneys’ offices, or at some neutral location like a hotel conference room, but rarely in a courtroom. Only the parties and their attorneys will be at the deposition, and often just the opposing attorneys attend, without their clients. A court reporter will also be present, to take down everything that is said for the official record. A videographer with a video camera (on a stationary tripod) will be present if the deposition is videotaped. In other words: no judge, no jury and no members of the general public will be present. Unlike many other lawyers, John will take as much time as you need to make you comfortable with this normal process. He understands that you might be nervous about having to talk about your injuries and losses to strangers, and he will help to alleviate your concerns. Trial testimony proceeds very much like testimony at a deposition, except that it happens in a courtroom, with a judge and jury present. Again, John will walk you through the process so that you feel comfortable presenting your case. You have probably seen movies and television shows where the courtroom is packed with an unruly mob of spectators. That simply doesn’t happen in most real-life civil trials. Chances are, you will be looking out at a roomful of empty seats while you testify.
9. What If There’s An Appeal After The Verdict? John’s contingent-fee agreement covers post-trial motions, but not an appeal. John will be happy to sit down with you and discuss arrangements for handling an appeal, should one be filed in your case. But bear in mind that appeals are rare: 98 percent of all civil cases will settle either prior to trial or during the trial, and a settlement agreement normally prevents either party from appealing.
10. I’m A Pilot – Do You Handle Matters involving Federal Aviation Regulations Violations? Not at this time.