Attorneys will usually have some history with local law enforcement officials. It is likely criminal authorities will become engaged early. The ability to talk to witnesses and investigate the allegations may be shut down once prosecutors and law enforcement take over. Attorneys who specialize in child sex abuse cases will know the prosecutors who are specifically assigned to the sex crime unit. These relationships prove to be valuable and increase the chances of being able to work in tandem with one another.
Once an individual or organization retains an attorney, the ability to communicate directly with these individuals decreases dramatically. However, there is usually a short window to talk to witnesses, or perhaps even to the perpetrator him/herself. An experienced sexual abuse attorney will have the connections and know the questions to ask before other attorneys become involved.
Litigation has its own separate set of anxieties. The term “litigation” generally describes the process following the filing of a lawsuit. Early involvement with an experienced attorney may facilitate an early resolution so that a victim and his/her family can get some level of closure and begin to move forward with the resources and an undivided focus on counseling and recovery.
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. Among the inquiries that should be made, are the following:
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 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 com- plaints 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 nor 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-Hubble. As trial attorneys, The Ameri- can 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 sup- port 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?
Most successful personal injury attorneys work by contingent fee. A contingent fee is paid only when the case is won or settled. Because the attorney works for a percentage of the result, his interests are nearly always aligned with yours to get the maximum value for your case. If you make more, he makes more.
Be wary of any attorney who insists on an hourly fee. It suggests an attorney unfamiliar with personal injury litigation and/or may suggest an attorney with little confidence in the outcome.
Contingent fees vary as to percentage and how that percentage will be calculated. Some attorneys calculate the percentage fee on the gross recovery. Others calculate the contingent fee only after expenses of litigation have been deducted from the recovery, what is called the net recovery. The latter calculation works somewhat in the client’s favor.
Contingency on Gross Recovery
Let’s assume there is a contingent fee of 40% on the gross recovery. A gross settlement is negotiated for $200,000. There were $20,000 in expenses of litigation. The $20,000 in expenses is deducted from the gross recovery, but the 40% fee is also calculated on the gross recovery.
Contingency on Recovery After Expenses
Now, let’s assume there is a contingent fee of 40% on the net recovery after expenses. This time the ultimate net recovery to the client is calculated after deduction of expenses.
What is a proper percentage? In a general sense, a percentage fee is based on the attorney’s risk. How much time is the case likely to take? How much will it cost? How long will it take? What are the chances of success? All these factors are considered by a contingent fee attorney.
Some clients are willing to advance some or all the expenses. Since the attorney’s risk is correspondingly lower, he may be willing to work for a reduced percentage fee. Percentage fees vary based on jurisdiction, experience of the attorney, type of case and risk. Fees should never exceed 50%, whether calculated on the gross or the net. 40% fees are common, and some attorneys are willing to work for less if the case is settled before trial.
Do not select an attorney based on the quoted percentage. Many times, you get what you pay for. A good attorney with experience in sexual abuse cases, working on a 40% contract, may get you more money resulting in a better net recovery for you than the attorney who offered to handle your case for 25%.