Suffering injuries, illnesses, or the tragic loss of a loved one is never easy. Learning your condition or loss was preventable, and a result of medical malpractice, compounds suffering and grief. Fortunately, the law provides a pathway for victims and families to seek compensation for damages after a medical facility or medical practitioner causes illness, injury, or death.
If you are a victim of medical malpractice or you have lost a family member due to medical malpractice, you are likely coping with a wide range of emotions during this difficult time. Maybe you have thought about hiring a medical malpractice attorney, but you are unsure where to start. Finding a good lawyer is crucial to prevailing in your medical malpractice claim.
Medical malpractice cases have special procedural requirements that make them far more complicated than most other personal injury cases. You need the experience of a knowledgeable medical malpractice lawyer to guide you through the process and advocate for the best outcome possible. Below, we provide in-depth information about the ways you can seek out an effective medical malpractice lawyer, and the questions you can ask during an initial consultation to ensure you hire the right medical malpractice lawyer.
Do Your Homework
You could simply do an internet search for medical malpractice lawyers near you, set up a few consultations, and pick an attorney to represent you. However, you risk not hiring the right lawyer when you take this approach.
Deciding on a lawyer to represent you in your medical malpractice case is ultimately about choosing the attorney that is the best fit for you. However, you need to learn more about your potential choices to ensure you not only mesh well with your lawyer, but you have confidence that he or she will fight to get the best outcome for your case.
Researching the following will help you narrow the field in your search for a good medical malpractice lawyer:
Reach Out to Family, Friends, and Colleagues for Referrals
You can start your search for a good medical malpractice lawyer by reaching out to your personal and professional contacts. If any friends or family members have recently been victims of medical malpractice or suffered any other type of personal injury, they will likely speak candidly with you about their lawyer. Many accident injury lawyers also handle malpractice lawsuits against nursing homes, hospitals, and medical practitioners.
Other professionals that you rely on might also provide you a referral to a good medical malpractice attorney. For example, accountants and attorneys who specialize in different practice areas sometimes know a good medical malpractice lawyer. Another attorney will not risk their own reputation by referring someone to a mediocre attorney, so these types of referrals are typically dependable. A referral from another lawyer indicates a strong reputation in the legal community.
You do not need a personal referral to find a good medical malpractice lawyer, but referrals can be a jumping-off point for your research. Once you receive one or two names, you still need to verify the attorney is active and has a positive reputation with clients and other attorneys.
Take a Look at Online Reviews
Online reviews can offer a variety of insights into a potential medical malpractice attorney if you know where to look. Many law firms offer client testimonials on their websites. These offer good information, but they lack balance. No law firm is going to publish negative client testimonials on their website, so you are not always getting the full story. Additionally, most client testimonials do not identify the lawyer involved in the case.
You need to seek out objective sources for client reviews to provide the most information. A common and trusted go-to site, avvo.com, has a directory of almost every practicing lawyer in the United States, including those in Pennsylvania. If you visit the site, you can search for a lawyer by their name, state, city, legal topic, and practice area, so you can specifically search for medical malpractice lawyers. Avvo.com assigns a score to each lawyer between 1 and 10 that indicates their overall level of professional excellence.
Individual clients provide one to five-star ratings for their attorney. When website users rate an attorney, some also provide in-depth comments about their experiences. You can also find other information about a potential medical malpractice lawyer on avvo.com, such as how many years of experience one has, their status with the Pennsylvania licensing authority or any other states they hold a license, and if the lawyer has ever received discipline or been sanctioned by a licensing authority.
Read Over Peer Reviews
If you are rushed to find a good medical malpractice lawyer and you have limited time for research, rely on peer reviews to make the right decision. Regardless of the industry, peer reviews sometimes receive heavy criticism as a type of navel-gazing. In the legal community, however, peer reviews are reliable and more than lawyers paying compliments to each other.
A successful law firm and legal career require a strong reputation, so lawyers typically only say positive things about those who they know to be excellent attorneys. Depending on the publication or websites, some peer reviews are confidential. Attorneys, who do not have to risk associating their name with a poor lawyer or offending someone, offer candid comments and ratings when they know their review is anonymous.
Avvo.com’s attorney profiles also contain peer endorsements you can look over, but you can find other trusted peer review sources that have been around for decades.
The following three sources are among the most trusted in the legal community and provide some form of peer review to get a thorough understanding of your potential lawyer’s reputation in the legal community.
- Martindale-Hubbell is avvo.com’s parent company, and they also own other legal websites. They have been around for more than 150 years in some form or another. Their website includes an online registry for over a million practicing attorneys in the United States, including medical malpractice lawyers. Martindale-Hubbell provides a special AV designation for lawyers whose peers have recognized them as demonstrating the highest level of professional excellence within the legal community.
- Best Lawyers, which is sometimes touted as the gold standard for selecting a lawyer, publishes a yearly list of the best attorneys across the United States. They include picks for “Best Lawyer” in 57 practice areas, including medical malpractice. Best Lawyers has been using a consistent peer review process for more than three decades to choose those that make their list. Peers must nominate someone for recognition. The previous year’s list members anonymously vote on nominees for each award cycle. Once someone nominates a lawyer, and he or she is included in Best Lawyers, they receive an automatic nomination for the next award cycle.
- Super Lawyers is another directory of practicing lawyers, but their peer review process only designates the top five percent of total practicing lawyers in each state. Super Lawyers designates elite lawyers through a multiphase selection process that begins with peer nominations. The organization evaluates each nominated lawyer on 12 different indicators with regard to peer recognition and professional achievement within their respected practice areas. Ultimately, Super Lawyers chooses its yearly list based on peer evaluations and independent research.
Learn About Awards, Honors, and Other Accolades
A lawyer who hasn’t received any awards, honors, or accolades, is not necessarily a bad medical malpractice lawyer. Yet, those who have been recognized for their exceptionalism are likely good lawyers, especially if you look at reviews and referrals, too. Best Lawyers compiles a list each year, but they also award exceptional attorneys and firms with “Law Firm of the Year” and “Lawyer of the Year” Awards. Super Lawyers’ elite selection process only includes the very best in their list, and other legal organizations and associations present awards to showcase exceptional attorneys who show excellence in their profession.
Good medical malpractice lawyers might receive prestigious national recognition from the National Law Journal or the American Bar Association (ABA). The National Law Journal designates a yearly “Lawyer of the Year” to one attorney who has demonstrated outstanding exceptionalism in their discipline. The ABA offers a variety of awards to attorneys across all legal practice areas, including medical malpractice.
Schedule a Free Case Evaluation
After you have done some research and narrowed your choice of medical malpractice lawyers, you need to contact one or two for a free consultation. It’s standard practice for medical malpractice law firms to offer free case review to potential clients. These initial meetings provide you with the opportunity to discuss the circumstances of your medical malpractice case, your specific illness or injury, and the ways malpractice has affected your life with a skilled medical malpractice lawyer.
Your potential attorney can give you more insight into your case and the process of filing a medical malpractice lawsuit. You also have a chance to ask questions about your case, the law firm, the legal process, and your potential lawyer’s track record with medical malpractice cases.
As you proceed through the initial consultation, you will know whether your potential lawyer is actively taking cases or just relying on past accomplishments to attract your business. Use this time to ask as many questions as you can ahead of time to ensure you are seeking out the right medical malpractice lawyer who is also a good fit for you.
Questions You Need to Ask to Hire a Good Medical Malpractice Lawyer
Free consultations with a potential medical malpractice attorney give you the chance to take in a lot of preliminary information that allows you to make a well-informed decision about hiring a good medical malpractice attorney. Questions you should ask should cover three broad areas: client service, experience, and your case. We’ve provided some sample questions below in each area to give you an idea of the type of information you should learn during your consultation.
Questions About Client Service
Who will be working on my medical malpractice case throughout the lawsuit?
Some law firms are settlement mills that take cases, let clients meet with a lawyer, and later pass the client on to junior associates. Paralegals and junior associates are cogs that help make a law firm, especially larger firms, function. Their jobs are important; they help build cases for clients.
Yet, when you meet with a medical malpractice lawyer, you want to know that he or she will take a strong role in overseeing your case and have a hands-on approach. You should expect to interact with secretaries, paralegals, and possibly a junior associate, but the majority of communication you have with the firm should be with the medical malpractice lawyer you hired to represent you in a lawsuit.
How long do you take to return calls to your clients?
You may or may not receive an honest answer to this question. Yet, you should still ask. If a potential attorney can’t promise to return a phone call to you within 24 to 48 hours, he or she might not have the bandwidth to take on your case. In other situations, some lawyers are great negotiators and litigators but have poor client service skills. If you have hired a lawyer to represent you, you should expect they are willing to return a phone call or email in a reasonable amount of time.
How often will you update me on my case?
It’s unfair to expect a potential lawyer to give you an exact time frame for updates. Each medical malpractice case comes with different obstacles and challenges and some aspects of the lawsuit process take longer than others. You should, however, expect that your lawyer will make every effort to update you after a major event, such as a settlement offer, new evidence or information, or a new witness. Once you speak with your attorney after a major event, he or she should offer an estimate of when you will have another discussion.
For example, “I made a counteroffer to your medical provider’s settlement offer on your behalf. I might get a response in a few days or a few weeks, but I will contact you as soon as I learn anything.” Sometimes it’s stressful for clients when they do not get updates on their case, so a good medical malpractice lawyer needs good communication skills.
Are you readily available to respond by phone or email to questions and concerns I may have during the lawsuit?
As mentioned above, you want a lawyer who will return your calls quickly, but sometimes you have urgent questions or concerns that need immediate attention. Other times you might need an update. Regardless of the situation, you want to know that your lawyer is available to answer your urgent calls or emails. A lawyer who is planning extended time away from the office for personal or professional reasons will not provide you with the client service you deserve.
Questions About the Lawyer’s Experience and Workload
Can you provide some examples of medical malpractice cases you have worked on that are similar to mine?
Medical malpractice cases have extra procedural requirements that separate them from other types of personal injury cases. Not only do you want to know your potential lawyer has experience with medical malpractice claims, but you want to know if he or she has represented clients with similar cases to yours.
Experienced medical malpractice lawyers understand the ins and outs of the laws related to your case and how to apply them to get you the best outcome during settlement negotiations and litigation.
Can you give some examples of settlement amounts and court-awarded damages you have secured for past clients?
Your potential medical malpractice lawyer cannot guarantee a specific financial outcome for your case. Each case has its own unique set of facts and circumstances that increase or decrease the potential amount of compensation you might receive in a settlement or from a jury verdict in your favor.
Yet, your potential attorney should provide some examples of past settlements and jury awards in cases that are similar to yours. This not only shows your attorney’s experience, but it can give you a broad idea of how much compensation you could receive.
How many clients have you represented thus far in your career as a medical malpractice attorney?
Everyone starts somewhere, so there is no shame in speaking with a “green” medical malpractice lawyer. Yet, you do not want to lose your case because of rookie mistakes, especially concerning the complexities that come with medical malpractice claims. Ensure you have a good medical malpractice attorney by finding out a little more about their experience, including how many clients he or she has represented. You should also ask about your potential attorney’s track record. Of course, you want a medical malpractice attorney that has prevailed in most or many of the cases he or she has negotiated or litigated.
How many cases do you take on each year?
The answer to this question provides insight as to whether your attorney stays active in the legal community. Laws and procedures change, and you want your medical malpractice attorney up-to-date on the latest developments with medical malpractice cases. If your potential attorney regularly takes on new clients, it shows he or she has been recently active. You should not jump to quick judgments about the number of cases your potential attorney shares with you.
Some lawyers choose to handle a few high-stakes cases, and others handle a greater number of lower value cases. Some have a mixture of each type of case. Sometimes trends in the number of cases a lawyer takes could indicate how good they are. For example, if a medical malpractice lawyer has too heavy of a workload, it could mean that your case won’t get the personal attention it needs.
On the other hand, if a lawyer has very few cases, it sometimes indicates they have not obtained successful outcomes for clients or have a bad reputation in the legal community. You have to consider the answer to this question with the other things you have already found about your potential medical malpractice attorney.
How many cases are you currently handling?
Before you choose an attorney to represent you in your medical malpractice claim, you want to know their current caseload. Much like the answer to the above question, the answer to this question lets you know that your potential attorney is currently active. You want someone active to represent you, but you also want a lawyer who has the time to commit to your medical malpractice claim. A lawyer with too much on their plate could prevent you from getting the best outcome possible for your cases.
Learning about a potential attorney’s current workload also provides another important clue about how good they are. Some attorneys market themselves based on the amount of money they have recovered for clients and rely on high-value cases to attract clients. It’s great when a lawyer can tell you that they settled or litigated several seven-figure cases. Yet, if these case results were from a decade ago, it suggests the attorney relies on old accomplishments to try to secure current business.
How many medical malpractice cases have you litigated?
Many personal injury cases settle before going to trial, especially those that involve traffic accidents. Medical malpractice claims can go either way. Both sides have an incentive to avoid costly litigation expenses, so negotiating is a likely part of the process. Additionally, some medical facilities and practitioners do not want the publicity that could come with a malpractice case, motivating them to reach a settlement agreement. Yet, many situations occur where settlement is not an option, and litigation is necessary.
If your medical malpractice claim goes to trial, you want a medical malpractice lawyer who has experience in a courtroom litigating claims. You should also inquire about the outcomes of any cases your potential attorney litigated. A good medical malpractice lawyer has a proven track record in the courtroom. A good track record indicates that a lawyer adequately prepares for litigation and knows how to apply the law successfully when he or she is under pressure during trial.
What are some failures you have faced with previous clients?
Even good medical malpractice lawyers make mistakes and occasionally face failure. The response to this question can provide valuable information about your potential attorney. If you are discussing your case with an experienced attorney, and he or she claims they have never failed, it’s fair to assume they are less than honest or they have little to no self-awareness. Hiring a lawyer with these qualities could negatively impact the outcome of your claim.
You want a medical malpractice lawyer who will give you honest answers and not inflate their successes. If the lawyer you discuss your case with speaks candidly about failures or mistakes, they demonstrate that they used these moments to learn, grow, and better represent future clients. The best lawyers remain on a path of professional growth rooted in their obstacles as much as their success.
Questions Related to Your Medical Malpractice Lawsuit
Are you willing to go to trial with my medical malpractice claim?
Some medical malpractice attorneys pride themselves on settling every case without setting foot in a courtroom. Other attorneys lack experience, so fear keeps them away from litigation. In addition to broadly asking about litigation experience, you also need to inquire if your potential lawyer is willing to go to trial to advocate for you and pursue the best outcome for your claim.
You might not have to go to court, but you want an aggressive litigator who is ready to take action if necessary. If an attorney tells you that you definitely will not have to go to court for your case, it should give you pause to ask more questions about what happens when you do not get a reasonable settlement offer, or the defense disputes the claim.
What kind of damages can I receive in a settlement or jury award?
Medical malpractice claim settlements and jury awards include compensation for a wide range of damages that include medical treatment costs, hospitalization, surgery, lost wages, pain and suffering, and more. Each case is different, so not all plaintiffs will receive the same type of damages. You can ask your potential lawyer about the kind of damages you could receive to allow them to demonstrate their knowledge, and give you an idea of what you might expect going forward.
Is there a cap on the amount of compensation I can receive for my medical malpractice claim?
Many states place one or more limits on the amount of compensation you can receive in a settlement or jury award for a medical malpractice claim. Some caps are for the overall amount of compensation. Other caps address compensatory damages such as those mentioned above. Finally, many states cap the punitive damages a patient can receive after suffering illness or injury from medical malpractice. Your attorney cannot give you a specific amount that you will receive for your claim, but he or she should provide you with any information about limits.
What strategies will you use for my medical malpractice case?
The strategy or strategies your attorney employs for your medical malpractice case will differ depending on your exact situation. Some factors that impact strategy include the extent of your illness or injury, the need for surgery, the need for future treatment or care, and whether you suffer from any relevant pre-existing injuries or conditions.
Once you share the details of your medical malpractice claim with an attorney, he or she should provide you with a roadmap of the best way forward for your case. Depending on your exact situation, your attorney might only have one or two strategies, but a good lawyer knows which strategies to use and which ones to avoid based on particular facts surrounding a case.
Your potential lawyer might need more information about your claim before devising the best strategy, so you should also ask what information you need to provide. For example, you might share your medical records and associated medical bills related to the malpractice.
What challenges do you see with my case?
Experienced medical malpractice lawyers have seen various situations throughout their careers, so it’s easy for them to identify potential obstacles or challenges in a client’s case. Good lawyers anticipate defense strategies and see conflicts coming from a mile away. You want to know what problems you could face; you also need to know your potential attorney has one or more plans to deal with any challenges.
Also, asking your potential medical malpractice lawyer about your case’s challenges helps you know that those evaluating your claim are looking at strategies from all angles and aggressively seeking the best outcome for your medical malpractice case. If the attorney with whom you discuss your case cannot provide a satisfying answer to this question, it could indicate you do not have a good lawyer.
Choose a Good Medical Malpractice Lawyer
After you have reached out for referrals, done your research, narrowed your search, and met with an attorney about your medical malpractice claim, you should feel secure in any choice you make. You will likely come across a multitude of good medical malpractice lawyers.
Ultimately, you want someone with a proven track record who is respected in the legal community. Your lawyer does not have to be your friend, but you want someone you feel will advocate for you until the bitter end, address your priorities first, and always work with you to secure the best possible outcome.