In most states, including Missouri and Kansas, a lawyer, is a lawyer, is a lawyer. Unlike the medical profession, which routinely certifies doctors for specialties (e.g. surgeon), the legal profession treats all attorneys the same. There is no procedure or organization that extends certification or special recognition to an attorney for a legal specialty.  Instead, you must properly inquire and vet the prospective attorney.

Questions to ask before hiring an attorney:

What percentage of your professional time is devoted to civil litigation?

It is best if the attorney focuses solely on civil litigation.

How long have you been practicing?

Practicing long enough to have 1st chair trial experience, have taken 40 to 50 depositions, and been lead counsel on 50 or more cases.

Have you handled sexual abuse cases? If so, against what types of defendants?

An experienced attorney will have handled 10 or more cases. Their experience should relate to your specific case. I.e., experience representing minors, litigating against clergy, churches, schools, civic organizations or employers.

How many jury trials have you had, and what is your record of success?

Attorneys should have tried 10 or more jury trials to verdict as the “first chair” attorney. Meaning they were the lead counsel and primarily responsible for trying the case.

What is your attorney to staff ratio? Do you have enough help to handle big cases?

The attorney to staff ratio should be at least 1:1. Such cases can involve numerous witnesses and hundreds of documents.

Who pays the expenses of the case?

A skilled, experienced personal injury attorney is inclined to not only advance all litigation expenses, but to bear the risk if the case is lost.

How much do you forecast this case will cost in case expenses?

Each case must be evaluated for the potential costs. It is not uncommon for a complex sexual abuse case to involve expenditures of in excess of $25,000.

Have you ever had a complaint to the bar? How many? What were they for?

An isolated bar complaint is not a deal breaker. Most complaints are dismissed without any consequence to the attorney. Sometimes it can be a matter of a client being dissatisfied with a result, for what is otherwise a good representation. Be wary of complaints that resulted in attorney discipline, such as a reprimand, suspension or disbarment.

Do you have any representative clients that we can speak with?

A self-assured attorney, with the former client’s permission, should always be willing to provide references.

Have you been recognized by any legal organizations for special skill or expertise?

While neither the Missouri or Kansas bar associations recognize certification of legal specialties, there are some organizations which recognize attorney achievement.  Some of the most reliable are those that consult with an attorney’s peers and judges before bestowing recognition. A few such organizations include:  Super Lawyers, Best Lawyers in America and Martindale-Hubblle. As trial attorneys, The American Board of Trial Advocates recognizes attorneys with a demonstrated track record of trial experience.

Do you have a Martindale-Hubbell rating? If so, what is it?

Attorneys are rated “A”, “B” or “C” by this long-standing legal group. An attorney can only be rated by his or her peers once he has first been recognized as having outstanding professional integrity. For that, he/she will receive a “v” rating. There is no other. An attorney rated “A/v” is among the most stellar in the profession as rated by other attorneys.

All attorney/client relationships are based on trust. Litigation can be a long, emotional process. In addition to finding a good attorney, you need to find an honorable and trustworthy attorney. There will come a time in every case when you will receive direct legal advice from your attorney. Do you trust his advice? Do you trust his support staff to give your case the same competent, caring service you demand of your attorney? Finally, does you attorney work pursuant to a contingent or percentage fee?