HOW TO PICK A LAWYER

BAY AREA LITIGATION BOUTIQUE also San Jose, Oakland, Fremont, Daly City, Hayward, Millbrae, Richmond, Santa Clara, Redwood City, South San Francisco PASQUALI LAW OFFICE

 

PASQUALI LAW

1220 Howard Avenue
Burlingame, CA 94010

 

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email: info19@lawsuite.net

San Mateo Peninsula: (650)579-0100

San Francisco: (415)841-1000

 

AREAS OF EMPHASIS

Insurance Claims: Auto accidents; insurance claims; bad faith denial of claims; personal injury; wrongful death.

Employment Law: Discrimination; harassment; TItle VII; wage & hour claims.

Probate Litigation: Elder abuse

Business Litigation: Breach of contract

Every consumer wants to hire a Big Gun Lawyer, but finding the right one isn't like comparison shopping for merchandise.

Thomas came up to me after his grandson's baptism. I’d always known him for his quick smile; maybe it was all those years selling A.T. & T. This time, Tom looked serious. His 28 year-old had just had his leg turned into hamburger meat by some reckless driver. “He’s not supposed to talk to the other guy’s insurance company, right?” I nodded. “Don’t sign anything, right?” I took another sip of my drink, “Yeah.”

          Then I waited. I figured I knew what was coming next. The same question I’ve heard a hundred times. Asking a lawyer “can you talk to him?” is the equivalent of the announcer asking drivers to “Start their engines” at Indianapolis. This time, it didn’t come. Tom gave me a polite “thanks” and then we talked about the military situation in Russia. Tom is a retired naval officer and his insights would otherwise have been fascinating. But the change of topic was killing me. I’ve done those cases a million times. Piece of cake. WHAT’S UP?

          Two weeks later, I found out. Sonny had moved to Connecticut. I’m a California lawyer. The question was the same, but with a different meaning. Sonny wanted to talk, except that he needed advice on how to pick a lawyer - back East. Here’s what he, and you, should know in order to get “a good lawyer.”

          First, contingency clients should never pick an attorney based upon what a lawyer tells them that their case is “worth.” Hourly and business clients should not price shop for the cheapest “hourly” attorney that they can find.

          Let’s start with contingency clients. Lawsuits aren’t like packaged goods. Any product “off the shelf” - in the same package and made by the same company - is identical regardless of where you bought it. Legal proceedings don’t work that way. The same “case” has a different value depending upon who handles it. How a claim is investigated, worked up, and then presented - both to an insurance adjuster as an out of court settlement and to juries - affects its value.

          It’s no secret that insurance companies offer less to some lawyers than others. This isn’t based upon how big or well known the lawyer’s office is, but instead upon their past experience with that office. In a 2013 article for the insurance industry, the author of the respected treatise Couch on Insurance notes that among the “external factors” which examiners use in formulating offers is “the reputation and caliber of counsel” representing the plaintiff. As a former insurance company lawyer, I can assure you that an ill prepared claim, like an unsubstantiated “big number” by your lawyer is little more than fodder for water cooler chitchat at the insurance claims office the next day.

          Instead of thinking of your case like a pre-packaged product "every broken leg is worth $__" think of it like the lyrics to a song, the idea for a painting, or the script for a movie yet to be performed. If you took it to two different artists, one with a track record and tons of experience, the other promising “big numbers,” which would you choose? According to Paul McCartney, the Beatles’ first hit song Please Please Me started out as a slow ballad. An experienced producer changed that. George Martin urged the group to both speed up the song's tempo and add vocal harmonies. Few people would argue with the resulting success. Rather than promising the Beatles "big numbers," Mr. Martin knew the business and delivered results. It's the same with lawyers.

An Experienced Lawyer Knows When to Rearrange the Batting Order

          As a prosecutor, I once tried a case involving the assault of a pastor on the steps of his church. Some 18 year-olds had been skateboarding there and the pastor, dressed in "civilian" clothes, had yelled at them. The criminal defendant had been in the vicinity when he overheard the tongue-lashing. The defendant snapped, beating and kicking “the old man” who was in fact a priest. We began trial and my plans were to proceed in chronological order, thus making the stream of events flow as they had unfolded on the street. I began with the 18 year-olds, and planned to then have the victim testify, followed by the 911 caller, then the police, paramedics, and ultimately medical staff. But, like any professional, a good lawyer knows when to change things.

          During her cross-examination of my first witness (the skateboarder) the defense lawyer began using an accusatory tone of voice seemingly designed to draw the witness into an argument. The 18 year-old was a nice kid, he’d said nothing to call for the attorney’s tone. Experience told me that if I called the priest as my next witness and he were to lose his composure when questioned in this manner, the case would be lost. The rest of the trial would become an exercise in defense indignation. I also knew that jurors can become tone-deaf to this style of advocacy. A change was needed.

          As soon as the court took our first recess, I marched into the hallway. “Father, I apologize, but you’re not going to testify today. I’m moving you to the end of the witness list.” He wasn’t happy, but it was my call to make. As predicted, the aggressive style continued with every prosecution witness, no matter how meek or straightforward they were. The tempo of the trial changed. By the time that cross-examination of the priest began, that lawyer's “style” looked more like egomania than self-righteousness. We won.

          Don't be fooled by what Mr. Big Promise claims that your case is "worth." Remember, it's easy to give you the opinion that they think you want to hear only to sheepishly apologize later with something like: "well, we didn't get what we expected." Instead, ask the lawyer whom you're interviewing for a specific example, like the one above, where they used their experience to win a case by adapting to changed circumstances. Anybody can hit fastballs, almost every case has one or two curves.

          Next, don’t bet on a rookie, or even a near rookie lawyer. Remember that experience means two things: first as a lawyer, second, on the type of case you have. Less than 15 years as a lawyer, without some of it doing the type of case that you have is a warning sign. Stay Away.

          Hourly clients face the opposite problem. Some clients bottom fish by picking the lawyer with the lowest hourly rate. Since hourly fees are often correlated to experience (with more experienced attorneys able to charge more) price shopping is somewhere between risky and potentially catastrophic.

          If you're considering a "big law firm," it's important to identify who is going to be working on your file. Far too many clients are unduly impressed by “big firms” and their staffs. The truth is, even with the largest firms, your case will be assigned to one “lead” attorney. If that person is too busy to personally “handle” your matter, your file will either become a headless serpent, wandering aimlessly through billing cycles, or inexperienced masters will handle it. Either way, your pocketbook is apt to become the one that gets bitten in the end. Don’t fall for the “...but I review Johnny Snot-nose’s work” line. Early mistakes and bad tactical decisions can send your case spiraling downward so fast that not even the Red Baron could pull it out of its legal tailspin. Try asking this question "In the last 12 months, did you personally make every court appearance on every case where you were the assigned attorney, or did anyone else ever appear for you?" Listen to the answer very carefully.

          Ask the lawyer for references. Instead of magazines where law firms can pay for advertisements, check the Martindale-Hubbell Law Directory. It lists over one million lawyers in more than 160 countries and nobody can buy their rating. Martindale-Hubbell solicits confidential peer review opinions about attorneys from other lawyers as well as from judges. Martindale's rankings range from "rated" to "B" and ultimately "AV Preeminent." What's the lawyer's rating with Martindale-Hubbell? You can check ratings at http://martindale.com. Every lawyer whose name appears has been rated. If a name appears without a rating, this usually means that the lawyer has asked that their rating be kept private. You should ask about that. Are there testimonials from past clients? Ask for objective proof that the courts trust the lawyer’s judgment. Serving as a Temporary Judge (Pro Tem), as an arbitrator, or as a bench-bar settlement attorney are good indicators that local judges consider the lawyer competent, even tempered and experienced. Lawyers aren't supposed to put Pro Tem work on their websites, so you'll have to ask. Any lawyer who hasn’t done all of the above, and who doesn't have an "AV Preeminent" rating with Martindale-Hubbell ought to be forgotten as well.

          Finally, litigation clients should look for actual "first-chair" courtroom experience. There’s just no substitute. It may surprise you, but since 99% of all cases settle, most “litigators” don’t actually go to trial. They “litigate.” Ask the lawyer to specify his/her experience in "solo jury trials to verdict.” Ask it that way.

          While it may be true that only a handful of lawyers you’ll run into meet each of these criteria, remember, you only need to find one. If you’re like most people, it’s not just your case; it’s your only case. Absent unusual circumstances, most lawyers who meet each of these standards can handle your case just fine. Piece of cake.

 

Pasquali Law, A Boutique Law Office Where Clients Matter

In Burlingame, California and serving the S.F. Bay Area cities of San Francisco, Antioch, Berkeley, Concord, Fairfield, Santa Rosa, Sunnyvale, Vallejo, Alameda, Alamo, Albany, American Canyon, Ashland, Bay Point, Belmont, Benicia, Blackhawk-Camino Tassajara, Brentwood, Campbell, Capitola, Castro Valley, Cherryland, Clayton, Cupertino, Danville, Dixon, Dublin, East Palo Alto, El Cerrito, El Sobrante, Foster City, Gilroy, Half Moon Bay, Healdsburg, Hercules, Hillsborough, Hollister, Lafayette, Larkspur, Live Oak, Livermore, Los Altos, Los Gatos, Martinez, Menlo Park, Mill Valley, Milpitas, Moraga, Morgan Hill, Mountain View, Napa, Newark, North Bay, Novato, Oakley, Orinda, Pacifica, Palo Alto, Peninsula, Petaluma, Piedmont, Pinole, Pittsburg, Pleasant Hill, Pleasanton, Rohnert Park, San Anselmo, San Bruno, San Carlos, San Leandro, San Lorenzo, San Mateo, San Pablo, San Rafael, San Ramon, Santa Cruz, Saratoga, Scotts Valley, South Bay,, Stanford, Suisun City, Tamalpais-Homestead Valley, Union City, Vacaville, Walnut Creek, Watsonville, Windsor, and Marin County, San Francisco County, San Mateo County, Santa Clara County, Monterey County, Alameda County, Contra Costa County, Solano County, and Napa County.