- A clean bar profile. A simple step is to search for the attorney on the Nevada State Bar Association’s website. Every licensed attorney’s status and disciplinary history is available on the site for the public to examine. If an attorney has been censured by the bar for unethical behavior, that should serve as a red flag.
- Willingness to provide free, substantive consultations. Free initial consultations are a staple of personal injury practice. An initial consultation serves numerous purposes, the most important being to help the client get a feel for the options available for their case. A consultation also helps both the client and the law firm decide if the firm is the right fit for what the client needs. An attorney who doesn’t provide free consultations may be a good lawyer who simply has a different business model, but for many injured clients the free initial consultation is key part of their process of evaluating a potential attorney. Clients shouldn’t have to pay for this step.
- Clarity about process or fees. An ethical attorney will be up-front with new clients about how the case will be handled by the firm and how the firm will be paid. The attorney should provide a clear, written statement of how fees and expenses will be paid. If the client will be asked to assume certain costs, such as the fees for expert witnesses, that should be stated at the outset of the engagement. A lawyer who draws in clients with promises of low fees and huge awards, but who springs inflated expenses on the client at the end of the process, is not acting in an ethical manner.
- Putting the client first. An attorney’s obligation is to provide rigorous, passionate representation of the whole client. Among other things, this means that the relationship between the attorney needs to be about more than just money. The attorney needs to be a careful, thoughtful listener. Many law firms operate as “litigation shops,” which try to earn money for their partners by doing high volume, low quality work. Clients of these types of firms may have difficulty getting personal attention from their attorneys, who are busy chasing down new clients rather than serving the needs of their existing ones.
For many people, suffering an injury is the first time in their lives when they need to talk to a lawyer. Driving through Las Vegas it’s hard to miss the billboards from attorneys who promise quick results and huge payouts for injured clients. For every “billboard” law firm there are dozens of others vying for new clients. Adding to the confusion are outfits that prey on the desperate circumstances of people who have been injured by offering pre-settlement loans, sometimes at high interest rates. All of this, combined with the stress and challenges of recovering from an injury, can be confusing. Having the help of an ethical law firm is essential for clients who are trying to make sense of it all. Avoiding an unethical lawyer can be a simple matter of instinct. Sometimes an attorney will offer something that sounds too good to be true. But it’s always a good idea to do a little research and analysis before working with an attorney, especially if the attorney isn’t one that was recommended by a trusted friend. There are a number of ways to examine whether an attorney is ethical: