There are many things to think about when choosing a good attorney for a medical malpractice case, but one of the most important, and most difficult, questions to answer is whether to go with a lawyer who works on contingency (ie. only paid if you win out of the claim proceeds) or one who charges by work done on an hourly basis.
Lawyers who work on a contingency basis are an attractive option, especially if you are strapped for cash, as he doesn’t get paid unless you actually collect a judgement or settlement. However, such a lawyer is highly motivated to make a settlement as big as possible and he may make decisions that are in his best interests, and not necessarily yours.
Say you want to sue the doctor who did not set your leg properly. A contingency fee lawyer confronted with a young doctor just out of medical school with big educational debt and no assets may wonder whether it is a case worth pursuing.
The contingency lawyer is likely to try and find alternative, wealthier possible defendants to sue, such as the multi-national corporation who owns the superstore you slipped over at. You may find yourself stuck in a long, drawn out litigation with a large company, just so your lawyer can try and claim his 90% success fee!
These are the lawyers you see on TV and with big ads splashed across the Yellow Pages. They will say that they have your best interests at heart, but they are more interested in lining their own pockets.
If you can only afford a contingency lawyer, shop around and find one who charges less than half of the settlement or judgment. This is more than a reasonable amount for the lawyer’s fee and will help you weed out the parasites who just want your money. Also, make sure that your lawyer does not intend going after parties other than the one who caused your medical problem – it was the doctor who failed to set your leg properly!
In an ideal world, if you can afford it, hire your malpractice attorney on an hourly basis. This may require you to expend quite a bit of cash to start with, but you will be able to control your lawyer better and have more faith in the advice he offers you – you won’t always be thinking whether his advice is in your best interests or his.
An hourly-paid attorney is likely to be more trustworthy than a contingency-fee lawyer – but still make sure you go through his billing records carefully! – and you are less likely to be dragged into spurious legal actions by a cash-grabbing shyster.
However, if your only affordable option is a contingency-fee lawyer, please do your research, shop around and choose a lawyer who will take less than 50% of your settlement as his fee and will focus only on the party that actually caused your pain and suffering.
If you stick to these guidelines, you should be fine.