This is not an easy question to answer unless you have already learned from a good or a bad experience. Some will instinctively look for a caring and compassionate person. Others will be attracted to a tough, competitive personality – someone they trust to go in to bat for them.
You will find lots of sales pitches that say ‘we are experts’, ‘we get the best results’, ‘we fight hard for our clients’ or ‘we care about our clients.’ How do you work out how true those promises really are?
Lawyers Past Experience and Court Cases
Everything is easy when you know how. First time round though was probably very hard. You don’t want your case to be a total learning experience for your lawyer! Does your lawyer listen to your story, then explain the options, what factors will determine how successful your claim will be and give you advice you could not have worked out yourself? That should be the first phone call or meeting and it should always be on a free no obligation basis. Your lawyer should be explaining practical examples of real cases they have done in the past that were similar to yours and what they propose to do with your case. If all you get are bare promises, keep searching!
The great majority of claims settle. However, if you aim for a settlement, you tend to get, at best, a very average settlement. Aiming for a trial, tends to get you a good settlement. The best lawyers have a proven track record of ‘going outside, over the hill, past the mountain range where no-one has been before’ and come back with a great result for their client. This won’t happen on every case. It will be less than one percent of cases that don’t settle and go to Court. When you ask, your lawyer should be able to give you their list of Court cases on the Court’s website, that they ran, so you can read what Courts and tribunals wrote about how they advanced their past clients’ cases. What happens out of Court is based on what the parties think would happen if the case did go to Court. Our recent cases are listed under “About Us” in the menu above.
Does your law firm do any pro bono work – spending their time for free trying to do justice? Ask about a current or recent pro bono case.
While you certainly want a lawyer that cares about you and will act in your best interests, someone who is only caring and compassionate and not tough and competitive as well will not do well against an opposing lawyer who is smart, tough, experienced and genuinely earnest in fighting for their client’s cause. We care about our clients and like winning – otherwise we would (and certainly could) be doing something else for a living. Most lawyers do not get paid as much as most people think. Civil litigation is a tough job. What type of personalities will insurance companies hire to defend your claim? How will your lawyer go against them? Insurance companies are run by their directors. Those directors have a duty under s 181 of the Corporations Act 2001 (Cth) to act ‘… in the best interests of the corporation …’ not in your best interests.
Being Looked After by a ‘Legal Team’
Most law firms will have a web page listing at least their more senior staff. Perhaps they call it ‘Meet the Team.’ We do, and we are a team. Just be careful of sales pitches that go beyond that and give the impression there will be lots of different people looking after your case especially if the changes will happen over time as your case reaches different stages. The knowledge living inside the head of your lawyer if they quit is very hard to replace and often can’t be replaced entirely. Experienced lawyers do need lower qualified and less expensive staff to assist with some aspects of your case, but you want one brain in charge of your case from start to finish if at all possible. Ask your lawyer how long they have been working in their current job, what jobs they’ve had before, what their plans are for the future and why? See if what they say makes sense.
The Real Legal Costs
You get what you pay for. But it is easy to pay too much too! Read the entire costs disclosure and agreement. Note down your questions and concerns to discuss with your lawyer. Does the lawyer understand their firm’s own costs agreement? Do they try to dodge talking about it? Are they proud and enthusiastic about explaining why it is better than other firms’ costs agreements? Can they explain how they work out how much and what type of work they will do on your case and how much in expenses they will incur?
In many cases, a winning claimant is entitled to some of their legal costs being paid by the defendant. How much does your lawyer know about that? Have they ever had a litigated dispute with a defendant about how much the defendant will pay for legal costs? Did your lawyer come out on top? You want a lawyer, whose gauge for what defendants should pay towards your legal costs, has been calibrated by winning disputes with defendants about that – where an independent costs assessor or Court decided the amount.
Is the law firm taking the risk for outlays (legal expenses)? Or are they signing you up to a litigation loan from a third party lender with high interest that only you are responsible for? Especially in complex cases, that will need very expensive expert evidence, if the law firm won’t take the risk for legal expenses on a case, why would you? They are supposed to understand the case better than you, as they are wanting you to pay them for their advice and conduct of the claim! In complex cases some law firms will ask you to pay for the first expert report to check if you have a good case. What’s better, is when your lawyer knows enough about your case to take the risk on the cost of that report themselves. This is not always possible, but is your case really so unique that even an experienced lawyer hasn’t come across the issues ever before?
Compare your lawyer’s legal expenses estimate against the size of the loan (if it is a loan) they have arranged for you. What happens when the loan runs out and you are only half-way through the case? Does the car have to be sold because it’s run out of petrol? At what price?
- Look for experience and explanations applying that knowledge to your case, court experience proven in published judgments and pro bono work they are proud to tell you about that you can verify on google from news articles
- A personality that will relish going in to bat against the types of lawyers that work for defendants and insurance companies
- Low staff turnover, check your lawyers employment history and goals for the future
- Does your lawyer understand their own legal costs? How much of your costs the defendant will have to pay? Have they won disputes with defendants before to extract maximum cost recovery? Are they willing to risk their own money on your case?