How to Select the Best Lawyer for Business Litigation


By H. Joel Newman

Finding the best lawyer for your case can be the difference between winning and losing: How to find the right lawyer for business litigation:

  1. Find a lawyer with ample experience in the specific area of litigation. This rule cannot be over-stated. There are countless areas of special legal expertise. You don’t want to pay a lawyer to learn an unfamiliar area of the law or to reinvent the wheel. Further, not following this rule can bring about a disastrous result. Don’t hire a personal injury attorney for a business lawsuit; don’t hire a tax attorney for a personal injury case

  2. Review and compare the lawyer’s history of verdicts and results. You will be amazed at the difference in outcomes between one attorney and another. You need a lawyer who consistently wins for his/her clients. Google your prospective attorney. Look for news items about their past cases, honors, awards, client comments, references and ratings, and peer ratings from other attorneys. Check out the attorney’s website, but do not rely upon it without cross-checking.

  3. Hoping to settle? To get the best settlement, you need a lawyer whom the other side knows, is willing and able to try the case. A lawyer who doesn’t go to trial will often fold on the courthouse steps. Opposing counsel usually has a good idea whether your attorney goes to trial and wins. Having a lawyer whom the other side knows can do the job can raise the settlement value of your case substantially. Of course, the converse is just as true. More often than not, attorneys who respect the ability of the other reach fair settlements. A lawyer who goes to trial and wins can walk all over one who doesn’t in negotiating a settlement. Over the years, we have settled many cases with non-trial attorneys very favorably for our clients.

  4. Check out the attorney’s reputation for honesty. The best way is through other attorneys or clients. There is also a wealth of information available on line. http://www.martindale.com/ is one good source for attorneys’ peer and client ratings and other information, and there are many others as well. You can check whether the attorney has ever been disciplined for ethics violations on the State Bar of Michigan website: http://www.michbar.org/ The importance of an attorney’s reputation and character cannot be over-stated. You need a lawyer who is respected by the Judge and opposing counsel. Just as important, you need an attorney who will be honest and fair with you and who will put your or your company’s best interest above his or her own.

  5. Attorney client communications are extremely important. Meet with your potential attorney. Do you feel comfortable? Has he or she answered all of your questions? Told you what to expect? Explained the fee basis clearly? Explained their procedure for keeping you informed? Our law firm copies our clients in real time with all important communications and documents, usually by email.

  6. Fees. Don’t go broke litigating. It is important to understand the fee basis and just as important to have at least a rough guestimate of what you can expect to spend, so that you can budget appropriately. There are numerous ways lawyers charge for their services, including:

  7. Hourly. This is the most commonly used fee basis for business litigation. The attorney simply keeps track of his/her time, multiplies the hours by the rate and bills in intervals, usually monthly. Unfortunately, it can be difficult to compare the cost of different attorneys based on hourly rates or the amount of the retainer requested. The number of hours one attorney works and bills can vary immensely from those of another for the same case, sometimes by a factor of two or more, for the same case. Further, while most attorneys are honest in their hourly billings, unfortunately, this is not always true.

  8. Flat rate. Under this method, the entire fee is agreed upon in advance. This method is used most often for specific tasks, like drafting an operating agreement or an employee handbook. Flat fees are rarely available in litigation matters unless they are part of a hybrid agreement.

  9. Contingent. Under a pure contingency arrangement, the fee is based on an agreed upon percentage of the recovery after payment of the client’s out of pocket costs. The client is ultimately responsible for all out-of-pocket costs incurred.

  10. Hybrid. A hybrid fee agreement combines a contingency with one of the other methods listed above. For example, the lawyer could receive a reduced hourly rate plus a percentage of the recovery. In some cases, the lawyer and client agree to “cap” the hourly fees at a certain amount along with a contingent percentage. Hybrid fees share the risk between the lawyer and client and reduce the up-front fees to the client.

  11. Fee Agreements. It is vital that you have a clear, detailed written fee agreement. The agreement should set forth the complete understanding between you and your attorney as to fees and costs. Do not sign the agreement unless you understand it completely or if any of the terms are not set forth fully.

H. Joel Newman is an attorney specializing in business litigation, commercial litigation and shareholder oppression trials. Practicing in Oakland County Michigan, Wayne County Michigan and Macomb County Michigan.

He can be reached at hjn@hjoelnewman.com