Finding a Competent Lawyer
Any licensed lawyer can handle a legal problem, but many lawyers do not have the background, financial resources, or experience to handle a medical or dental malpractice case successfully. A lawyer who does not have a solid understanding of medical malpractice or dental malpractice, and the issues in your case, is unlikely to guide you safely through the maze of problems that will arise.
Malpractice defense lawyers only worry about experienced opponents; lawyers inexperienced in medical malpractice or dental malpractice are not much of a threat. Most lawyers did not study the sciences in college, and only a few have a medical or dental background. This means that the average lawyer does not know any more about medicine or dentistry than you do, and probably less, because you have suffered an injury and learned a lot from your contact with doctors, nurses, and hospitals.
Law students read opinions by judges, involving complicated technical stuff from brain surgery to space shuttles, and many of them think that being a lawyer automatically makes them experts on any subject. They ask questions and read a few books to become an instant expert in medical and dental specialties that take doctors years of hard work to master. There is no such thing as a home-grown, self-taught lawyer, but there are plenty of home-grown, self-taught malpractice lawyers and it shows. A substantial amount of medical malpractice and dental malpractice cases are lost because of errors made by plaintiffs’ lawyers.
Doctors and hospitals, on the other hand, are defended by lawyers who specialize in nothing but medical malpractice or dental malpractice and have access to a stable of doctors from the medical and dental establishment. Defense lawyers rarely make mistakes and win more cases than they lose.
In most states, a lawyer can take on any case that walks into his office, whether or not he knows anything about what it concerns. Legal ethics prohibit a lawyer from accepting a case that he is not qualified to handle, but like most rules that professions and businesses make for themselves, it has big loopholes and is sometimes unenforced, for the following reasons:
Firstly, in most states, it is the lawyer who decides whether he is competent. If a lawyer wants to get experience in medical malpractice or dental malpractice, and learn by working on your case, no one is going to stop him.
Secondly, no matter how inexperienced a lawyer is, legal ethics permit him to take on any case, provided he “associates” with an experienced lawyer in handling it. But, he is the one who decides: if he needs an associate, whom he will ask for help, and when he will ask for it. He can do preliminary work for a big part of the fee and then call in an experienced malpractice lawyer at the critical point or if the going gets tough. If everything goes smoothly, he does not need to call in an experienced lawyer or split the fee with anyone. It also means that he can refer your case to the law firm that gives him the best financial deal.
Associating is common in the legal profession, because it allows lawyers to earn fees they otherwise would not receive. Theoretically, the referring lawyer is only supposed to charge for what he does. In actual practice, some law firms that specialize in medical malpractice or dental malpractice will kick back as much as 50% of their fees to other lawyers for finding the client and referring the case to them without doing any actual work.
Imagine that you are a lawyer, with a modest income, and have no experience with medical malpractice or dental malpractice cases. Someone consults you about their malpractice case that could earn you a large fee. Do you tell them that you are not qualified to handle it? Or, do you decide to give it a shot, figuring that you can always associate an experienced malpractice lawyer if the going gets tough.
That arrangement is okay provided the lawyer calls in a competent malpractice lawyer. The problem is that the outcome of a medical malpractice or dental malpractice case is largely determined by the lawyer’s initial decisions and moves. Serious mistakes in the beginning are difficult to correct later, and your case is either lost or you do not receive what you are entitled to.
This Rule Is: Hire the best lawyer you can find from the start, and do not sign a retainer with any lawyer until you are satisfied that he or she is experienced in medical malpractice or dental malpractice and competent to handle your case from start to finish.
Since 1978, JD.MD, Inc. has proudly served the U.S. and Canadian legal communities in helping determine if a malpractice case has merit. Malpractice lawyers can contact us at jdmd.com or by calling toll-free 1-800-225-5363.