By Aubrey O. Dicus, Jr., Shareholder
A commonly asked question by those injured in an accident is “Should I hire a lawyer with trial experience?” Because injury claims have the potential of going to trial in a court of law, the answer is absolutely yes. While there may be many excellent lawyers in your community, you want a lawyer with relevant experience in personal injury claims. Just like when you have a broken bone you should hire a doctor with experience in treating broken bones, like an orthopedic surgeon rather than a cardiac surgeon who specializes in care of the heart.
So, while the short answer is simple – hire a lawyer with trial experience – it becomes a bit more complicated from there. Typically, there are two types of trials one may confront in litigation: a jury trial or a nonjury trial. The difference is significant. Since almost all personal injury claims are tried by a jury trial, you want a lawyer with not only trial experience but jury trial experience.
Only a small percentage of lawyers in Florida actually litigate cases and among those even a smaller percentage actually have gone to trial; interestingly, even a smaller percentage of those have actually been in a jury trial on a personal injury claim. The vast majority of personal injury cases settle without having to file a lawsuit. Of those cases where a lawsuit is filed most are settled without a trial. Government statistics show that less than 5% of personal injury cases that are actually filed go to trial, which means it is likely that substantially less than 1% of personal injury claims are resolved by a jury trial. So, the population of lawyers with actual jury trial experience is limited.
You should exercise appropriate due diligence in selecting your lawyer with jury trial experience. Following are some of the factors you should consider:
- The lawyer’s amount of jury trial experience.
Obviously, a reasonable degree of experience with jury trials is important. Trial lawyers with just a few cases of jury trial experience usually have a lot more to learn. Beware, because quantifying the quality of your lawyer based on how many cases he or she may try in a given year can be misleading. Because so few cases actually go before a jury, it may be that a seasoned trial lawyer, especially a well-known one, may try less than one jury trial in a year’s time, but overall have substantial jury trial experience.
- The quality of the lawyer’s jury trial results.
This can also be tricky because often cases actually go to trial because the case has inherent problems. For example, is “who’s at fault” an issue, is it a low impact case which creates causation issues, or does it involve a client that already had significant injury problems. Nonetheless, it will be important to know that the lawyer has had good results.
- The lawyer’s reputation in the community.
Whether your lawyer has a good reputation among the judges and other lawyers in the community is important. It can often make a difference in courtroom results. It can also make a difference in settlement values if it is known by defense lawyers and insurance companies that your lawyer does file and go to trial, unlike the many lawyers who don’t.
- The lawyer’s personality and people skills. This may be difficult to assess in an initial interview which will likely be all you have before making a decision. Nonetheless, you should look at this factor in your interview. Again, the lawyer’s reputation in the community would also be a factor to consider.
Considerations related to hiring a lawyer is quite an involved topic and beyond the scope of this article. So, let me conclude with the strong recommendation that for your injury claim you should definitely hire a lawyer with jury trial experience and your vetting process should, at least, include the considerations mentioned above.