Learn How to Choose an Attorney, by Jerry Summers
How to Select A Law Firm
JERRY H. SUMMERS
Summers, Rufolo & Rodgers
The James Building
735 Broad Street, Suite 800
Chattanooga, TN 37402-2913
Toll Free: (888) 778-6575
Telephone: (423) 933-2738
Facsimile: (423) 266-5211
The practice of law has changed from a profession to a business with the approval of legal advertising by the United States Supreme Court. While the “running of cases” (solicitation), has always been present, the methods of getting business for lawyers have changed dramatically with radio and television ads, yellow page ads, direct mail solicitation, billboards, telephone solicitation and both true and false advertising claims. While solicitation was once considered to be illegal and unethical, it is now an accepted practice, with few restrictions. At Summers, Rufolo & Rodgers, we still believe that satisfied clients, plus the recommendations of clients, friends and referrals from other lawyers and clients are the best source of legal business.
In this article, we will address some of the methods of advertising presently being used by lawyers and point out some things that prospective clients should be aware of in considering such methods in the selection of lawyers to represent you, your family members, or friends.
It should first be kept in mind that all of the advertising methods involve the expenditure of considerable funds which have become part of the operation of the law office and, which may, cause lawyers to speed up the resolution of the case without getting the full value for the client due to financial pressure on the law firm.
BellSouth and its competitors have convinced lawyers that “bigger is better” and many are either getting the front or back page of the telephone book, a double page, a colored ad or an ad with a patriotic or distinctive theme and any other attention gimmick that will encourage potential clients to contact their law firm.
Remember that the law firms with the biggest, brightest and first listed ads have to pay thousands of dollars a month to get their location, which becomes part of their firm’s monthly overhead.
Statements such as “50 years in practice” only means that the lawyer(s) have had a law license for that period of time. It does not mean that they are more competent or even qualified to try a particular type of lawsuit.
“Members of the American Bar Association, Association of Trial Lawyers of America, etc.” merely means that the lawyers have paid membership dues to join the organization with that being the only requirement for membership, other than a law license.
“Board certified as a Specialist” means only that the attorney has been in practice the required number of years and has passed a one-day test on the specialty that most lawyers who have been practicing any number of years can pass, and the participation in a certain minimum number of cases in the specialty. Although some of the specialty organizations require a certain number of trials that the applicant must participate in, it does not require that the cases be won.
“Millions of dollars” have been collected by our firm on behalf of accident victims” may mean that the law firm has settled a lot of little cases over many years, or had a few large settlements over several years. It does not mean that the firm has acquired the maximum amount of funds to which the client may be entitled, but may merely mean that it has settled the cases at an amount lower than its value if tried by a jury.
“We meet vigorous standards set by the United States Supreme Court and the American Bar Association” simply means that they have paid a fee to belong to each organization and have two lawyers endorse their applications for membership. As long as a lawyer is in good standing with the Tennessee or Georgia Supreme Court and has not been disbarred, they can join the aforesaid organizations by paying an initiation fee after they have been in practice a minimum number of years.
“Free initial consultation” simply means that nearly every lawyer who takes a personal injury case on a contingency fee (if you don’t collect, the lawyer gets no fee), will discuss your case on the same basis.
“My guarantee is that we will beat the insurance company’s best offer.” The truth is that historically all the injured parties receive approximately 25% more money when represented by a lawyer. If you want to try and settle your case without a lawyer get the maximum offer from the insurance company, and then hire a lawyer who is willing to take a percentage attorneys’ fees for the additional amount recovered above the best offer you received without a lawyer.
“Highest rated for legal ability and ethical standards by Martindale Hubbell.” This is a legitimate rating service of attorneys. However, it should be pointed out that those who subscribe to the very expensive publication and also purchase an additional listing in another section get at least tacit consideration when lawyers are rated. Likewise, the “luck of the draw” in getting ratings from friendly fellow lawyers may also help to secure the higher rating. I do not suggest that obtaining a AV or BV rating in Martindale Hubbell is not a goal to be achieved by attorneys. However, it, like all of the other factors listed in this article, should only be one part of the criteria you use to select a law firm to represent you.
“I take cases to win,” “I’ll fight for you,” “I get results,” and “experience is the difference” are all catchy phrases
suggesting an aggressive, tough approach to handling your case. Whether such statements are true or just puffing should be determined after further inquiry into the lawyer’s actual trial experience and record for success.
Tennessee law now allows lawyers to immediately contact by mail criminal defendants who have been arrested and personal injury victims in car wrecks or other accidents within 30 days from the date of the accident to solicit their business. As a result, at least eight (8) law firms in the Chattanooga area, now send a form letter to every criminal defendant. Some are simply solicitation letters while others contain glowing accolades of trial experience and alleged success. We respectfully suggest that you contact other individuals who may have needed the services of an attorney to get their opinion of the lawyers you may contact to represent you prior to contacting one of the mail solicitors. Please be aware of the fact that some bail bondsmen, jailers and even jail inmates often have special relationships with certain lawyers which form the basis for them to recommend a particular lawyer in a criminal case. Ambulance drivers, policeman, and hospital personnel have also been known to have special relationships with certain attorneys. Beware of selecting a lawyer recommended by these groups.
Summers, Rufolo & Rodgers AS ATTORNEYS
Summers, Rufolo & Rodgers, was formed in 1969, when Jerry H. Summers left the District Attorney General’s Office in Chattanooga, Tennessee, after serving 28 months as a prosecutor. Over the years the firm has grown until we now include as members of the firm the following attorneys: Ben McGowan, Jerry H. Summers, Jeffery W. Rufolo, Jimmy F. Rodgers, Jr. and Marya Schalk. These lawyers represent a wide range of interests and handle legal matters in the areas of personal injury, worker’s compensation, products liability, asbestos/mesothelioma, criminal law, labor law, employment law, as well as other general practice areas. Each of the lawyers has been assigned some sub-specialty in which they try to keep abreast of the latest developments in that particular area. We presently handle cases primarily in Tennessee and the State of Georgia, although we do not maintain an office in Georgia. It has been our practice that when we have a case in the State of Georgia that we try to associate, at no additional cost to the clients, a widely respected attorney in the county in which the case will be tried.
Rather than attempt to compete with the methods employed by other lawyers, we respectfully request that you ask your relatives, friends, and fellow workers if they have had any experience with our law firm. If you would to see a complete biographical listing of our law firm, please feel free to contact the firm, and we will be glad to send you a copy of our biographical rating in the aforementioned Martindale Hubbell Directory. If you have a computer, you may obtain the same information by visiting our website at www.summersandwyatt.com. We believe mat our legal rating, honorary organizations to which members of the firm have been selected and our involvement in the legal community are comparable with any of the leading law firms in the State of Tennessee and we will be glad to specifically direct you to references if you have any questions concerning our ability to handle any legal matter. Please feel free to contact one of these six attorneys, who will openly and candidly advise you as to your legal rights, and if we do not feel that it is a case which we can handle, we will be glad to attempt to refer you to some other lawyer that may specialize in a field that we do not handle in our firm.
We are proud of our individual as well as group clients which include the Chattanooga Area Labor Council and the Building & Trades Council which represents approximately 9,000 to 10,000 labor union members in the Southeast Tennessee and North Georgia area. Please feel free to contact any of the 85 labor organizations in their membership if you have any questions concerning Summers, Rufolo & Rodgers‘s ability to handle their legal matters. We also represent several unions and individual organizations on a retainer basis. Ours is a “people” oriented practice and as we start our 3 5th year representing our client, we are most appreciative of their support and continued use of our services.
In closing, we wish to emphasize that the purpose of this memorandum is to allow you to make an intelligent choice before employing legal counsel to handle what may be a very important matter in your family’s life. We will be glad to meet with you or the involved individual at any time with no obligation to hire our firm. We will strive to give you candid, straight-forward and honest information which, hopefully, will allow you to then make a decision as to whether you wish to employ us or another law firm.
Please contact Jerry H. Summers or any of the lawyers at Summers, Rufolo & Rodgers, The James Building, 735 Broad Street, Suite 800, Chattanooga, Tennessee-Telephone: (423) 933-2738 -Facsimile: (423) 266-5211, if you have any questions or comments concerning this article.