I’ve been practicing law for over 22 years. When I first started practicing in the late ‘90s you still occasionally saw attorneys who practiced in multiple areas of the law, many of them referring to themselves as general practitioners. There weren’t a lot of attorneys still doing that then and now I think it’s pretty rare and the only place you will probably find an attorney still doing this is in smaller towns where there aren’t many attorneys to begin with. Otherwise, the concept of a general practitioner has gone by the wayside primarily because the law keeps expanding. There is too much of it for any one attorney to study and become competent in for the general practitioner to survive, at least without committing legal malpractice.
So over the past few years I have become concerned as I watch young attorneys graduate from law school, pass the bar and then open their own solo practices and take on these cases because they heard it was easy money. Alternatively, I’ve noted attorneys who practice primarily in other areas (family and criminal law are examples) have gotten it in their minds that personal injury is a good area to add to their existing practice. In either scenario it’s not a concern if the attorney is being trained by an experienced personal injury litigator, but too often they are dabbling in this area without ever receiving any training. I can’t express how incredibly dangerous this is, not only for the attorney, but for their clients as well.
When I first left the district attorney’s office to join Ken Jaray (my prior partner) and take up a personal injury practice, I did so to learn personal injury and workers’ compensation (they are very similar areas) from someone who had been doing it for a long time (at the time, my former partner had been doing it for about 30 years). When I started working with him I still remember him taking me aside and asking me what my thoughts were for becoming competent in personal injury. My prior experience had been learning criminal law and I had been able to become very comfortable in practicing in that area within about six months of beginning the work. So when Ken asked me that question I confidently expressed that I should be able to come up to speed in this area within six months to a year. I still remember the slight smile that crossed his face as he looked at me and told me that I should plan on five years of practice in personal injury before I would be competent in it. I thought he was crazy. But he was right.
As I started doing the work and became immersed in the study of personal injury, I began realizing that the more I learned, the more incompetent I felt which made me even more thankful that I had a mentor (interestingly this feeling went away after I had been practicing personal injury for five years, just like Ken said). This was extremely humbling as the realization that this is a VERY complex area of the law sunk in. And it isn’t just the law that makes this area of practice so complex. In personal injury we deal with injured people almost exclusively so not only do we have to have an understanding of the law and all of its exceptions and rules, we also have to be able to understand the medical condition so that we can explain it to adjusters and, in a worst case scenario, a jury. Attorneys with no training in this area have absolutely no clue how to accurately evaluate these cases and as a result, in my opinion, have no business making personal injury a side hobby for their normal area of practice.
So how do you protect yourself? When you are talking to attorneys, you should ask how long they have been in practice. Then follow up with how long they have been doing personal injury. Is it a multi-member firm with another attorney that has the experience necessary to handle your case, or are they a solo firm with little to no experience? If they are a solo firm and you find out they have not been doing primarily personal injury for at least five years, go find another attorney who does this work regularly.
Another little trick you can use to try to find out how long an attorney has been in practice is to go to the Colorado Supreme Court website. You can search the attorney by registration number (if you know it) or by name. Once you type in the name it takes you to another page with the name of the attorney on it. Click on the attorney’s last name and it will take you to the attorney’s page where you can see when the attorney was admitted to practice in the State of Colorado and information about who he/she works for. This won’t tell you how long they have been doing personal injury work, but it will tell you how long they have been in practice so you can determine from the start whether the attorney has even been practicing long enough to help you.
Finally, ask the attorney or the firm whether they are members of the Colorado Trial Lawyer’s Association (CTLA). This is an organization we belong to and its membership consists entirely of attorneys who practice in this area. Members of CTLA share immense amounts of information among each other and it is a central resource for asking questions and learning about the changes happening in the law (which is ALL THE TIME!). If the firm you are talking to doesn’t know what CTLA is or they say they aren’t members, go find another attorney. Yes, CTLA is that important!
In the end, it’s up to you to be an informed consumer when choosing an attorney to handle your personal injury claim so doing the research is going to help you get a better result. Of course, you can always make it easy on yourself and just give us a call since you already know we have the experience you need.
Call our office for a free initial consultation at 719-633-6620.