1. Are they really an employment lawyer? Many firms advertise for employment cases, but their true practice is personal injury, or commercial litigation. This is what I always tell my clients- Would you go to a foot doctor for open heart surgery? Employment law is a niche area and requires the level of experience and expertise to handle properly and successfully.
2. How many employment law trials have they handled as a “first chair” (main lawyer on the trial)? Being a trial lawyer is a dying art. There aren’t many of us left out there. There are too many lawyers out there who know, that when they take your case, there is no way they are going to try it, because they DON’T KNOW HOW! Most employment law attorneys suffer from the condition known as “accepting the employer’s last best offer instead of going to trial.” As a client, do you think you will ever get justice or the true value of your damages when your attorney wants to settle out of fear of having to go to trial. Employment law trials are tricky and complex. And, if you have a lawyer that knows how to take these cases to trial and does go to trial, the defense lawyer knows it. The end result- you get the value of your case through settlement, or hopefully from a jury.
3. How long has your attorney practicing employment law for employees? As I said above, employment law is a unique area of the law with pitfalls, exemptions and loopholes. You need an attorney who has practiced for a while and understands the litigation. Too many attorneys out there have just jumped into their own firm after being a defense lawyer representing corporations for the last few years. The mentality of an employee or plaintiff lawyer has to be one of understanding and bonding with your client. These are traumatic events that led you to my office in the first place. It takes years to make that transition from defense lawyer to employee lawyer. Talk to your prospective lawyer about how much experience they have working with employees vs. corporations. You need to know this.
4. Has your attorney run his/her own law firm, or managed a team before? Employment lawyers need to be leaders, who are organized, detail oriented, and assertive in their role. If they don’t have these traits, they will get thrown to the wolves known as the big firm defense lawyers. And guess what? Your case gets eaten with them. Talk to your attorney about their organizational and leadership skills, and the experiences they have had leading litigation cases and teams. You are putting your future in their hands. Don’t you want to know that you are following a leader?
5. What is your lawyer’s vision of the case? An employment lawsuit is like a puzzle. You need to be able to take pieces (facts) and place them together so they present a clear picture for your jury? During the initial consult, ask your lawyer what his theme or vision of the case is at that time. If he/she can’t answer you on their feet, what is going to happen at trial when something goes wrong (And believe me, something always goes wrong).
6. What has been their best result in a case? Look, we cannot guarantee as lawyers what your results will be. But, the best predictor of the future is the past. If you have a lawyer that had million dollar verdicts, and $9,000,000 plus settlements again and again, wouldn’t you prefer that lawyer over the lawyer that settled a case against a dry cleaner for $6,000 once? There is no such thing as a discount lawyer.
7. Cheapest isn’t the best- We all want to save money and get the best deal possible. But, searching for the best lawyer for your case is not the time to bargain shop. Simply put, you get what you pay for. In my opinion, employment lawyers shouldn’t charge you up front for a consultation. If your case is good, employment lawyers will take it on a contingency which means they don’t get paid unless you get paid. Doesn’t that give you the most comfort to know that you and the lawyer are in this together? When employment lawyers charge a client by the hour for their case, that says to me that they don’t think they can win the case, and they just want to get their money paid up front. Is that the type of lawyer you want fighting for you in front of a jury?
8. Does your lawyer specialize in certain types of employment cases? There are certain employment lawyers out there that focus on union cases but don’t do sexual harassment or discrimination. Some lawyers claim to be overtime lawyers only. Make sure that the lawyer you hire has expertise in handling your specific case area. If he/she doesn’t have that expertise, that’s not the lawyer for you.
9. Ask your lawyer to speak to former clients who had a similar case. The best way to gauge how your case will go is by speaking to former clients that had a similar case to yours. If your employment lawyer hems and haws about finding a client to talk to, do the alarms start triggering that this lawyer may be all show, and no go?
10. Ask your lawyer where they value your case. Again, a contingency lawyer only gets paid if you get paid, so of course, the higher the value of the case, the better for the lawyer as well. But everyone needs to be on the same page with reasonable expectations first. The worst thing that could happen is that you don’t have the conversation with your lawyer, and he is suggesting that you settle for $500 when you think you are owed $1,000,000. This is the equivalent of a couple getting married before they discuss whether to have children, and then one spouse says they want children and the other one doesn’t. It happens. If you find a lawyer that you like and trust, talk to them about their expectations for your case. If you aren’t on the same page after reasonable discussions, you want to know that sooner rather than later, don’t you?