How To Choose a Trial Lawyer – Russell W. Adkins

Eight questions to ask before you select a civil trial lawyer

1. How many cases have you tried as solo or lead counsel?

There is a difference between a litigator and a trial lawyer. Many fine lawyers are experienced at guiding clients through discovery and setting cases. But not all have substantial courtroom experience. When a lawyer tells you that he or she has “participated” in trials, you should ask at what level of participation, and what parts of the trial the lawyer personally handled.

These questions help you to evaluate how much of the lawyer’s experience involves actual interaction with judges and juries. Many lawyers claim to be experienced in handling or trying cases. The lawyer’s answers to this question can help you to evaluate the lawyer’s track record of taking cases to trial. Opposing counsel will already know.

2. How many cases have you tried before a jury?

Jury trials are different from bench trials. Presentation to a jury requires a different type of preparation and presentation.

3. What experience do you have handling and trying cases like mine?

A lawyer’s experience handling another subject matter may or may not translate well into efficient handling of your case.

4. How much attention will you personally devote to my case?

Depending on the complexity of the case and the size of the law firm, not every task may be handled by one lawyer. You should have an understanding at the outset of the case about who will appear on your behalf at depositions, court hearings and trial. Will it be the lawyer you selected, or will it be someone else?

5. What other lawyers in your firm will work on my case, and how much experience do they have working on cases like mine? Can you introduce them to me now?

It also is useful to know how a law firm will bill you if it becomes necessary to change the participating lawyers. For example, if the lead counsel or an associate is reassigned or leaves the firm’s employment, will you be charged for another lawyer’s time reviewing the file and becoming familiar with your case?

6. How will you bill for your services, and how will you charge for work performed by less-experienced associates?

It is customary for laywers to bill at a lower rate for work performed by less-experienced associates. You should be comfortable that the rate you are paying is appropriate for the level of expertise that you are receiving.

7. How many lawyers will you send to court, and how will you charge for that time?

There may be times when more than one lawyer attends court, deposition, mediation or another proceeding. This practice can substantially increase the amount of your expenses, and should be minimized. You and your lawyer should have an understanding up front about how much you will be charged when two or more lawyers bill for the same work.

8. Are you certified as a civil trial practioner?

The Tennessee Commission on Continuing Legal Education and Specialization certifies certain lawyers as specialists in their respective fields. To be certified as a civil trial advocate, a lawyer must first obtain certification by the National Board of Trial Advocacy by completing a rigorous certification process.

A certified civil trial advocate has a proven track record. The certifed lawyer has demonstrated substantial jury trial experience as lead counsel, handling of a heavy litigation caseload, and participation in continuing legal education in the trial practice field. He or she has passed a full-day written examination on trial practice and professional ethics, has received positive reviews from peers and judges, and adheres to high ethical standards.

Two of Wilson Worley’s lawyers, Richard M. Currie, Jr. and Russell W. Adkins, are board certified as Civil Trial Advocates by the Tennessee Commission on Continuing Legal Education and Specialization and by the National Board of Trial Advocacy.