A question I’m often asked is how to find a good business litigation attorney. Let’s be clear on something first: not all types of attorneys are alike. While we all have the same general education in law school and pass the same bar exam, what we do in practice can be very different from one another.
The same attorney who formed your corporation, advised you on running your business, or even drafted or negotiated your contracts with landlords and business partners, is probably not the same one who can litigate your case.
What is Litigation?
Litigation means to file a lawsuit or defend against a lawsuit in court, and doing that involves a different skill set than doing corporate transactions. Very few lawyers do both things, or at least do them well. Even among litigators as a general category, there are differences in specialties. A lawyer who handles will and trust disputes in court litigates as well, but since the procedures in probate court are different than general civil court, that person may not have the expertise to do what you need.
The same goes for family law attorneys. They go to court to fight disputes, but those may involve alimony, community assets, and child custody. etc., which are different from business disputes, and the procedures and practices are often different in family court than in civil court as well. Not to mention, family court attorneys rarely have any jury trial experience, which is an important factor in selecting a business litigation attorney.
Qualities to Look for in a Business Litigation Attorney
You need to select a lawyer that not only has experience in the relevant field but one that has substantial winning experience in court. How do you find a business litigation attorney? You can start with online sources that list the outstanding business litigators in the community. These include sources such as:
These are peer-reviewed listings of the top 2-5% of attorneys in that specialty in their respective communities. These sources also break out by category and specialty, the practice areas of these outstanding attorneys.
The Pitfalls of Hiring Friends/Acquaintances
You may have friends, neighbors, or relatives that are attorneys. You do not pick a good attorney based on such criteria. Do what the smart clients do and research the online services I just mentioned, then check out their websites to see if they have significant wins in cases similar to yours.
Check Their Website
Understand that lawyers are not shy about touting their successes in court. If you don’t see significant three victories referenced on their websites, it is probably because they don’t have any and you should look elsewhere.
Make Sure Your Attorney is An Expert in Your Area
Why is it important to have an attorney who not only understands your case but is prominent in the area? Regardless of whether you’ve been sued and are a defendant, or have been hurt by someone else’s business practices and need to file a lawsuit against them, your choice of an outstanding attorney with a strong team behind them sends a very strong message to the other side. The message is that I will aggressively defend or prosecute this case, and my attorneys have done it before and will do it again to maximize my legal rights.
Interviewing Your Attorney Selections
After you’ve narrowed down the candidates from online sources, interview them, either on the phone or in person. Explain your legal situation and ask if they’ve handled similar cases. Ask what their preliminary legal strategy would be and whether they are familiar with the court where your case will be tried.
The Importance of Federal Court Experience
One factor of note is whether the attorney has experience in practicing in federal court. Every business litigation attorney practices in state court, which is where most ordinary disputes go: contract disputes. Partnership disputes. Disputes involving alleged fraud or unfair business practices.
However, a subset of lawsuits are in federal court or should be in federal court, because they involve some federal law or involve litigants that are in different states from one another. For instance, a Florida company that sues a California company for anything more than $75,000 can avail itself of the jurisdiction in a federal court. Some cases solely involve the interpretation and enforcement of federal law and are only proper in federal court.
A federal court matter involves its own procedures and practices. Federal judges are also considered extremely sophisticated and tough and are often strict on adherence to their procedures. Thus, if you’re filing or defending a lawsuit in federal court, make sure you hire a lawyer who practices in federal court regularly. Of all business litigators, it is fair to say that 80% of them do not feel comfortable in federal court.
How Much Will a Business Litigation Attorney Cost?
An obvious next consideration, of course, will be financial. How much is this going to cost me? Unlike a personal injury attorney who may take cases on a contingency arrangement – meaning their legal fees will be a percentage of what you recover from the party who caused the personal injury – most business litigation matters will be handled through hourly fees, meaning you’ll be charged for the time that attorneys spend on your case.
You’ll run into lawyers whose fees run the gamut. However, as with most things in life, you generally get what you pay for. The more skilled and successful your lawyer is, the more his or her services are in demand and the higher the billable rate he/she can command.
For preeminent mid-sized firms in California, hourly rates often range between $500-750 per hour for associates and $800 to over $1,000 an hour for partners. Expensive? Sure. But a solid, experienced lawyer can often do in one hour what may take a less experienced lawyer four times as long if such lawyer even devises the same successful approach. A good lawyer will treat your case with the highest priority, even after hours and on weekends if needed.
Seemingly low-billable rates can be misleading. If an attorney charges $250 an hour, but it’ll take him four times as long as a $600/hour attorney, did he deliver quality? When assessing legal fees, is it better to pay more and win or pay half as much and lose? Saving money in this manner and being on the losing end of a large settlement or trial verdict is not worth it and will be a source of regret for a long time.
If you review my website at Callahan Consulting, you will find I am on the winning side of some of the largest business cases ever litigated in the United States. For example, I took a $2 million breach of contract case, and through discovery and in court testimony; I expanded the theories of recovery to include fraud and economic duress. Following a three-month jury trial, I secured a unanimous $934 million jury verdict against a multi-billion dollar company! I also represent defendants in state and federal courts and have obtained total defense wins against some of the nation’s best trial attorneys.
If you have a need for a strong trial lawyer, I would welcome the opportunity to learn about your case and provide assistance in finding you a top business litigation attorney. Contact me at 888-570-0000.