When hiring an attorney, you’ll likely have a decent sized list of potential attorneys to contact and interview.
In this article, we’ll discuss the pros and cons of hiring a generalist vs a specialist.
Considerations When Hiring a General Practitioner vs a Specialist
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You’ve gotten referrals, and you have done some internet research.
There’s a list.
You might be considering small firms, large firms, or even solo practitioners.
Some of these attorneys may claim a long list of practice areas, while others will hold themselves out to handle only specific areas.
You’ll likely notice a large price disparity between the attorneys as well.
The generalists may charge significantly less than the specialists.
In some instances, it can make sense to go with the general practitioner over the specialist, in the following situations:
You can’t afford the specialist. Money is money, and when you don’t have it, you don’t have it. Sometimes the general practitioner is all you can afford. In that case, look for a generalist with the right amount of recent experience in related practice areas or trial work.
The generalist has a lot of experience. Very experienced attorneys have the ability to “become” experts in certain areas of law on the fly if they need to. This is especially the case if the lawyer is already very experienced in the other aspects of building a case and taking it to trial.
The specialist is far away. When the specialist is not local, this can present many challenges throughout the case which can inflate the costs of the case dramatically. The client will not be able to meet with the attorney often (or at all) in person, the attorney would have to travel to visit locations relevant to the case, and the client will not have in person access to the files or other evidence present in the attorney’s office.
The case needs are broad. While specialists are experts in one area, they can lack relevant and necessary expertise in other critical areas. For example, in complex death cases, an attorney might need to be an expert in wrongful death, personal injury, motor vehicle accidents, illegal substance analysis, forensic reconstruction, probate administration, life insurance, jury selection, and trial practice. If the attorney is only an expert in motor vehicle accident cases, he might not be a good fit in a complex wrongful death case involving nursing home negligence.
In other instances, it makes sense to go with the specialist, such as:
The case involves a very specific cause of action, such as murder, nursing home negligence, medical malpractice, patents, and trademarks. While a generalist could put together a case in these areas, there is no substitute for an expert lawyer who has experience handling multiple causes of action in the technical practice area. If certain cases, specialists from different areas have to work together in order to provide the coverage necessary to handle the case beginning to end.
In all cases, ask the attorney:
For recent war stories. Every attorney should be able to tell stories about cases the attorney handled, how he went about them, and how they resolved. If the attorney has no war stories in the desired practice area, this is a red flag.
What’s the plan? Every experience attorney should be able to give the potential client a general idea of how the case will proceed and what he will do along the way. If the attorney is unable to tell you what he would do first, and how he would proceed after that, or tells you that it is impossible to provide even a vague plan of attack, this is a red flag.
How he intends to handle the workload. If the case involves thousands of documents, how can one lawyer with only one assistant handle the needs of the case, along with his other active cases? If the attorney has no plans for how to handle a large complex case with few resources, this is a red flag.
Listen To Your Gut
In the end, the attorney and firm you select needs to be someone you can trust and rely upon.
In all cases, there are going to be some tough decisions coming in the future about where to take the case, and how to proceed.
You need to know that the firm has your back, and is acting for your best interests.
And not just to churn the file to earn money.
If you are not completely comfortable with your choice, don’t be afraid to keep looking.
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