Online Attorney Directories – How to Evaluate a Legal Directory on the Internet

There are a number of websites that purport to have lawyers waiting to help. The reality is most of these websites are only attorney directories created by marketing teams who have no understanding of the law or, in many cases, who have no connection to a real lawyer or law firm.

These online attorney directories often end up in the top of the search engine results. The marketing teams help ensure this happens. This leaves you, the consumer who is looking for an attorney, with the obstacle of having to evaluate the online attorney directory. Here are some tips for evaluating online lawyer directories as you search for the right lawyer.

  • Determine whether the directory is a paid directory.
  • Paid directories are those that require lawyers to pay a fee to be listed in the directory. Paid directories usually have the most accurate contact and practice area information. Attorneys who pay to be included in the directory have an interest in making sure their information is correct.

    The downside to these directories is they may have very few attorney listings. This raises the question as to what types of attorneys pay to be listed on an online legal directory. Many successful attorneys do not have to incur this expense in order to carry out their trade. Other very good attorneys do incur this expense, but most of them do not do it regularly. For example, attorneys who are just starting out, are changing practice areas, or are relocating to another state may initially use these directories as they establish their new law practices. Is this the type of lawyer you want to hire? If so, the paid legal directory may be just what you are looking for.

  • Scrutinize free attorney directories.
  • Not all free online lawyer directories are bad. There are some very good ones. The best online legal directories usually have some direct involvement by attorneys themselves. For example, many free online attorney directories have forums where lawyers answer free legal questions. This allows the attorneys to get the word out about their practice and their expertise, while helping point folks in the right direction.

    Some other free online attorney directories focus on compiling contact information for lawyers. Most of these directories compile the information without any direction or input from the lawyers who are listed in the directory. These directories stand out as they usually just provide a listing of attorneys. These directories often scrape the information off of legitimate websites with the sole aim of generating advertising dollars for themselves.

    A recent trend is for these websites to have an attorney profile page that can be “claimed” by the attorney. The purpose here is to bring visitors to the directory using the search engines thereby generating advertising revenues for the directory. The directory may also hope the lawyer will notice the profile and “claim” it by entering their information. Very few attorneys actually claim profiles in this manner. Indeed, many of them have to contact legal directories and ask to have their names removed from the directory. Thus, you should avoid any attorney directory that indicates attorneys should “claim” their profile.

  • Avoid attorney rating sites.
  • Attorneys help clients with a multitude of legal issues and the facts of each case are different. The work of attorneys cannot be boiled down to a number or other rating. These rating systems often try to gauge an attorney by the number of years the attorney has been in practice. Older is not always better. Statistics show that most complaints filed with state bar associations are filed against attorneys who have practiced a number of years. These complaints relate to failing to provide quality client service to failing to keep abreast of the law. While it is somewhat rare to see the same complaints filed against younger attorneys, this has no bearing on how the attorney is likely to handle your particular legal matter. You should avoid attorney directories that rate attorneys in this manner.

  • Avoid the attorney directory that includes prices.
  • Attorneys are highly regulated. The attorney professionalism rules for every state say that attorneys must charge reasonable fees. What is reasonable for a particular matter is dependent upon a great number of factors. Unless you have provided all of this information to the attorney directory, it should not quote prices. This seems like common sense, but it needs to be said. Avoid attorney directories that include pricing information.

    These steps should help you screen the online attorney directories you find in the search engine results.

    Attorney Negligence: Did It Cost You Your Case?

    Attorney Negligence: Did It Cost You Your Case?

    Statistics show that legal malpractice claims have become more frequent for the last three decades. There are several instances where a client loses confidence in the abilities of his lawyer because the latter made matters worse instead of providing a resolution to the problem. If you suffered damages due to your lawyer’s wrongful conduct, may it be due to his negligence or intentional act, you may consider the option of bringing a legal malpractice action. However, proving a legal malpractice claim could be challenging as it often involves extensive search for appropriate arguments and corroborating evidence. Despite the existence of actual damages, there are other factors that need to be examined to determine whether a claim of legal malpractice should be filed.

    Damages

    If the client can prove that the attorney’s negligence or wrongful act resulted in damages, such damages could be recovered by filing a legal malpractice lawsuit. However, there are cases where damages are not easily ascertainable. In such cases, the California Supreme Court held that recovery of damages could still be awarded even if the existence and the cause of such damages are difficult to determine. On the most part, however, damages that are based on speculation or mere threat of future harm are usually not awarded by California courts.

    Clients are likely to be more successful with the recovery of so-called “direct” damages. These are damages that have been the direct result of an attorney’s negligence or misconduct. For instance, in a case where an attorney wrongfully advises his client to file for bankruptcy and sell his home for a lower price than its market value, the court is likely to award the client damages to the extent of what he lost from the sale. In another case, a California court awarded damages to a physician due to the loss of his good reputation and the increase in premiums for his medical malpractice insurance due to his attorney’s negligence.

    If the client can show clear and convincing evidence that the attorney can be held liable for fraud, malice or oppression, even punitive damages may be recovered, see California Civil Code § 3294. However, client-plaintiffs who have been denied the award of compensatory damages will not be entitled to punitive damages. In general, it is more difficult to prove the existence of punitive damages as courts usually require specific facts to prove that the attorney acted with oppression, fraud or malice. In one rare case, the court of appeals awarded punitive damages due to an attorney’s “conscious disregard of plaintiff’s safety”. In that case, the attorney, who was also a physician, advised his client to postpone the surgery in order to strengthen their medical malpractice lawsuit even though he knew about the urgency of a surgery.

    Furthermore, if the client-plaintiff lost his claim for punitive damages in the underlying action, it is very unlikely that courts will award him punitive damages in a legal malpractice lawsuit. The California Supreme Court held that such damages are based on speculation and plaintiffs should not be entitled to damages that cannot be proven with certainty. Otherwise, lawyers would be exposed to more risks of liability, resulting in an increase in the cost of malpractice insurance.

    Attorney Negligence

    In a legal malpractice action based on the attorney’s negligence, the courts will look into four factors. First, the client-plaintiff needs to show that the attorney-defendant has the obligation to apply the skill, prudence and diligence required from his profession. Second, there has to be proof that the attorney failed to fulfill the above mentioned duty. Third, the client-plaintiff also needs to show that the attorney’s breach of his duty resulted in the damages he suffered. Lastly, as mentioned above, the client-plaintiff needs to present evidence of the existence of such damages and not just mere speculation. According to the California Supreme Court, client-plaintiffs who are facing criminal charges need to prove their actual innocence before they can bring an action against their attorneys. This way, the clients who have been found guilty by a criminal court would not be allowed to go after their attorneys and recover civil damages. An exception to this rule is a malpractice action that is not based on the quality of legal services provided by the attorney. For instance, a fee dispute between the client and the attorney can still be pursued in court even if the client was charged by a criminal court because such a dispute merely involves the attorney’s billing practices.

    Typical Cases of Malpractice

    The most common basis of malpractice action is the failure of an attorney to adhere to the deadlines set by the Code of Civil Procedure as well as other statutory filing deadlines. As mentioned above, attorneys are expected to apply the required skill, prudence and diligence in providing legal services. The failure to file a lawsuit, initiate a proceeding or bring an action within the so-called statutes of limitation could constitute a strong claim for legal malpractice.

    An attorney can also be held liable if the court in the underlying case issues a default judgment against his client due to his failure to file a pleading, see California Code of Civil Procedure § 585. Furthermore, if he fails to relieve his client from the default by filing a motion in a timely manner, namely within six months after the issuance of the default judgment, the client would have another ground to file a malpractice lawsuit against him assuming that the motion could have been successful.

    It is also possible to hold an attorney liable for not raising viable defenses in a legal action. In such cases, however, the client-plaintiff needs to show that the defenses that were not asserted can be proven in court and would have led to a more favorable result. In one case, for instance, a California court denied the award of damages to the plaintiff because the attorney decided to leave out weak defenses.

    In general, attorneys have an obligation to adhere to their clients’ preferences particularly with regard to legal decisions involving their substantive rights. The failure to follow these instructions can be a basis for a malpractice action. In one case, for instance, a California court held an attorney liable for his failure to file a complaint despite of his client’s specific instructions to do so.

    However, courts have held that an attorney can make decisions without his client’s consent if authority has been given in an agreement. Decisions involving procedural matters are also instances where attorneys can act independently. California courts have not yet drawn the line as to how to differentiate procedural matters and legal decisions. Thus, establishing a legal malpractice action based on the failure to adhere to clients’ instructions could pose several challenges. On the other hand, courts have consistently held that attorneys are not obliged to follow instructions that can result in an illegal or unethical conduct. Furthermore, an attorney can reject a case if he determines in good faith that the case lacks merit.

    Another frequent basis for a legal malpractice action involves settlements. According to the California Rules of Professional Conduct, an attorney needs to provide his client specific information pertaining to the settlement such as the amount, and the terms and conditions of the offer, see California Rules of Professional Conduct Rule 3-510. To be successful with a malpractice action, a client-plaintiff needs to prove three things. First, there has to be evidence showing the attorney’s failure to inform the client about the settlement (or parts of the settlement). Second, the client-plaintiff needs to attest that he would have accepted the settlement offer if he had known about it (or had sufficient information about it). Last, evidence should be presented that the client would have benefited more from the settlement than the actual outcome of the case. The amount of damages in such a case will be determined by the difference between the actual outcome of the case and what the client-plaintiff would have received from the settlement offer.

    Statutes of Limitation

    In general, clients can file a legal malpractice lawsuit one year after the discovery of circumstances that support the malpractice claim or four years after the attorney’s act of misconduct, whichever comes first, see California Code Civil Procedure § 340.6(a). There are, however, exceptions to this general rule that could prolong the periods of limitation, giving plaintiffs more time to file a lawsuit. For instance, periods where the plaintiff is physically unable to bring a legal malpractice action against his attorney will be considered as tolled. The same applies to cases where the attorney-defendant is still representing the client-plaintiff in the same case where the attorney’s misconduct is at issue. In such cases, the time limit for bringing a legal malpractice action could be exceeded.

    Seeking Legal Advice

    The success of a legal malpractice lawsuit will mainly depend on the evidence and arguments which will support the claim that the attorney has been negligent in representing his client. Even procedural matters such as determining the applicable deadline could pose some challenges as well. Thus, in cases that involve complex issues, consulting a lawyer who is experienced in legal malpractice cases is inevitable in order to prevent the occurrence of further damages to the client.

    Sources:
    California Code of Civil Procedure
    California Rules of Professional Conduct

    For further reading:
    George Lindahl J.D., California Torts, 2012
    Suzan Herskowitz Singer, Attorney Responsibilities & Client Rights, 2003
    Robert W. Schachner Esq., How & When to Sue Your Lawyer, What You Need to Know, 2005

    How to Go About Selecting an Attorney For Your Case

    How to Select a Personal Injury Attorney

    While there are many factors that affect whether a client wins or loses a personal injury case, or affect the level of the settlement, selecting the right personal injury attorney makes the most difference in winning the case. So, how should one go about selecting a personal injury attorney who will get the best results, and the best settlement, for the case?

    Most personal injury attorneys have free consultation. You, the client, should use the consultation not only to have the attorney assess your case, but also to interview the attorney to make sure your case will get the attention it deserves. The first indication as to whether you and your case will get the attorney’s full and undivided attention is how you are treated during the free consultation. Obviously, you should expect to discuss the case with an attorney, not with a paralegal, or other members of the attorney’s staff. After all, you are not hiring a paralegal; you are hiring an attorney to understand your case, research the facts of the case, research the law and win your case for you. You want to be able to talk to the attorney first hand, not through intermediaries.

    Once you meet with the attorney, outline your case and answer whatever questions the attorney may have. You should then ask the following basic questions. The answers that you get should determine the level of comfort you have regarding the level of attention that the attorney will give you and your case:

    1. Who will be handling and researching your case. Is that person an attorney or a member of the staff?

    2. If your case goes to trial, will the attorney be fully involved in the litigation or would he outsource the litigation without any involvement?

    3. Will the attorney be your contact at the attorney’s office? If so, will he be available during office hours as well as after hours? Would he give you access to his direct telephone, including his cellular phone?

    It is a fact that at the offices of some personal injury attorneys, clients come in contact with paralegals and other office staff but never with an attorney. If the attorney responds that his “competent” staff will give their full attention to your case, get a clue. If the attorney is reluctant to give you his cellular number to contact him anytime you have a concern, get another clue.

    Many of my clients have confided in me that the reason why they have not selected other attorneys before knocking on my door was the fact that they could not talk to an attorney. They were able to talk to a paralegal or other staff, but not the attorney.

    If you are not able to talk to a personal injury attorney during the consultation, or if you do not feel comfortable that your case will be getting the full, undivided attention of the personal injury attorney, find another attorney. There are many good attorneys out there who are anxious to give you and your case their full, undivided attention.

    Ramzy Ladah
    Las Vegas Personal Injury, LLC
    http://www.ladahlaw.com