Over the years, I have represented countless numbers of Plaintiffs in Personal Injury cases in the St. Louis area. My experience with my clients and my handling of these cases has led me to a number of conclusions regarding the factors which are important in choosing a St. Louis Plaintiff’s Personal Injury attorney. For years I have had clients sitting in my office who have told me that they have been represented by other attorneys in the past. My question has always been “Why didn’t you go back to that attorney?” It has been my hope to learn from the mistakes of other lawyers and to get the perspective of clients who are dissatisfied with services that they have had in the past. In addition, I have tried to listen to clients who were very pleased with the services of my firm in order to determine what an attorney needs to do right. I have also had clients bring me files after firing attorneys and I have seen first-hand what can go wrong when poor service is provided.
First, I have found that the most common reason that clients fire attorneys, or don’t go back to them for future services, is that many of them don’t return phone calls. When I say “don’t return phone calls”, I literally mean that they don’t respond in any way when a client calls, writes a letter, or sends an email. Even if the attorney is in trial, or there are scheduling challenges, a client at least deserves to know that the attorney received the message and will be responding sometime soon. A failure to return phone calls can often indicate a lack of respect and, from the client’s perspective, it undermines confidence in the attorney’s ability accomplish a result for the client.
Secondly, some attorneys will handle any kind of case, regardless of their experience. I recently had a client who fired an attorney who was practicing in the Kansas City area. The client was in an accident in St. Louis City and this is generally a more favorable venue from the standpoint of being a Plaintiff. However, the attorney was unaware that St. Louis City and St. Louis County were separate entities. When he filed a lawsuit on behalf of the client, he described St. Louis City as being a municipality within the boundaries of St. Louis County. Not only did he file the case in the wrong venue and picked a venue which was unfavorable to his client, but he clearly did not have the familiarity of the local court systems. It is important to choose an attorney who is familiar with the court system and the jury verdicts in the various counties throughout the St. Louis Metropolitan area. Mistakes in understanding the various court systems and procedures for courts in the St. Louis Metropolitan area can result in a poor outcome in a Plaintiff’s Personal Injury case.
Third, it is important for the attorney to have experience in the type of matter which is being handled. For example, an attorney handling St. Louis Car Accident cases should spend a lot of his time practicing in this area. While practicing in other areas can complement the attorney’s services, a real estate attorney, for example, may not understand how an investigation should be conducted. This can result in a less than favorable result if witnesses are not contacted and later disappear, or opportunities to take pictures are squandered. In a car accident case, pictures of damaged vehicles could help resolve a dispute as to how a collision took place. In a case involving a fall, pictures of the bad steps, pothole, or heavily waxed floor could lay the groundwork for a successful result. If an inexperienced attorney doesn’t follow up on such items in a timely manner, then stairs may be repaired, potholes can be filled in, and floors may be replaced.
Fourth, some attorneys look for a quick settlement and will either abandon your case, or abandon interest in it, if it doesn’t come together quickly. In all fairness, there are cases that come in the door and look good at first glance, but sometimes, as the evidence is gathered, it becomes apparent that the case is not going to be successful. On the other hand, there are cases in which adjusters simply refuse to be reasonable and attorneys will often have reputations for abandoning cases easily. Such attorneys will often try to settle for a lowball offer in order to avoid the work which comes with taking the case to trial. It is important to get a sense as to whether the attorney will be willing to do battle on your behalf if the going gets tough.
My fifth point is a very basic one. It is important to choose an attorney who speaks with honesty and candor. You do not want to be misled and it is usually a matter of time before you get a sense that your attorney is being less than fully honest. Beyond honesty, your attorney should also speak to you with frankness and candor. As a client, you sometimes need to know the bad news as well as the good news. An experienced St. Louis Personal Injury attorney will tell you if there are circumstances in which cases like yours are hampered by certain factors. If there is light damage to the car, or a problem with your treating doctor’s credentials, then you need someone to pull you aside and tell you about things which may affect your case negatively. In front of certain juries, for example, they may be conservative and it would help to know if they are going to look negatively at long hair, tattoos, or other items. While it is uncomfortable for an attorney to talk about certain subjects, you are looking for frankness and candor. An attorney who politely points out certain prejudices of potential jurors is doing a great service to his client.
Finally, a lot of clients tell me that they didn’t re-hire their former attorney because they couldn’t relate to him. Some attorneys are pretentious and condescending. I have found that attorneys who are down to earth and secure in themselves can develop an excellent reputation with their clients. If you are in the process of looking for an attorney, I would suggest that you consider all of these factors in choosing the best person for you.
The contents of this article are intended for educational use only in order to provide readers general information and a basic understanding of the law. If you are seeking legal advice, please consult a licensed professional attorney in your state. The information in this article should not be substituted for experienced legal advice.
Jeff Swaney founded the Swaney Law Firm in 1984. Jeff obtained his law degree from the School of Law at St. Louis University, as well as a Master of Arts in Public Administration. He is a member of the Missouri Association of Trial Attorneys (MATA) and The Missouri Bar Association. Jeff is also licensed and handles cases in the State of Illinois.
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