Admiralty and maritime laws are unique, so you'll want a lawyer who specializes in this area if you have a maritime injury or claim.
A great place to start your search for a lawyer is right here at lawyers.com. You can do a free search to come up with a list of lawyers by using the Find A Lawyer search box that can be accessed from anywhere on lawyers.com. (You should see a search box on the right side of your computer screen.)
In doing a search, keep in mind that most admiralty and maritime lawyers will be near major seaports. Thus, you will want to expand your search to cover these areas if you are not successful at first in pulling up any names. You can also follow the search tips that are provided in response to any unsuccessful searches, or click on Search Help.
To hire the best lawyer you can for your situation, it is important to take the next step of accessing background information for the lawyers on list you have pulled up. You should easily be able get a lawyer's biography either by clicking on his or her name, or by clicking on the "More info . . ." link that appears in each listing. If the lawyer has a Web site, you should check it out by clicking on the hot link that may also be provided in the listing.
You'll need to do some initial screening of your list of lawyers to whittle it down to three or four prospective candidates:
- Look at biographical information, including whatever you can find on Web sites for the lawyers and their law firms. Do they appear to have expertise in the area you need? Do they have any information on their Web sites that is helpful to you?
- Lawyers who represent injured people usually don't also defend against lawsuits in this area. The profile for the lawyer and his or her firm should give you an idea of whom they primarily represent. If you can't tell, call the lawyer's office and find out.
- Use search engines to surf the Internet. Can you find any articles, FAQ's or other informational pieces the lawyer has done that give you a level of comfort? Cross check your references by doing searches using key words such as "maritime injury attorneys" or "maritime trial lawyers."
- Check to see if the attorney belongs to personal injury trial lawyers' associations, such as the American Trial Lawyers Association("ATLA") or your state's trial lawyers' association. You may also check to see if the lawyer is a member of The Maritime Law Association of the United States ("MLA"). While MLA is perceived as a defense-oriented organization, many members also represent personal injury victims.
- If you already have a working relationship with an attorney who practices in another area, ask him or her for the names of some good maritime injury attorneys
- Ask other people you may know in the maritime industry if they've heard of the attorneys and what they think about them
- Contact your state bar association or visit their Web site to find out if the lawyer is in good standing
- Check out the yellow pages of your telephone directory. Does the lawyer advertise? If so, do you find it compelling? Helpful? Tasteful?
- Ask for references. You want to talk to people who could comment on the lawyer's skills and trustworthiness. Ask if it is okay to talk to some of the lawyer's representative clients. If so, try calling them to see what they think about the lawyer.
- Ask about conflicts of interest. Does the lawyer represent any opposing parties?
- Ask for a copy of a firm brochure and promotional materials that the firm may have. Crosscheck these materials against your other sources and references.
Consider any special needs you have. For example, could you benefit from an attorney who speaks a language other than English?
You shouldn't necessarily cross a lawyer off your list just because he or she didn't have the time to meet with you on short notice. Good lawyers are busy, so they may not be able to spend as much time as they would like with prospective clients. You should also anticipate that whomever you hire may have to delegate a lot of responsibility to his or her staff. You should expect to be treated courteously and professionally by the staff and the lawyer.
Unless there are special circumstances, you'll want to hire a lawyer with a local office, or one in the location where your accident occurred.
If you've been injured and have a good case, you should be able to hire a lawyer either on an hourly or a "contingency fee" basis. A contingent fee means that the lawyer will be paid based on a percentage of what you may collect on a settlement, or on a judgment if the case goes to trial. There are many things a lawyer will consider in deciding on whether or not someone has a good case. A contingent fee of one third (33%) is common, but the percentage to be paid the attorney may vary substantially, depending on the quality of your case. Attorneys may also be willing to consider a "sliding scale" contingent fee agreement, under which the attorney's contingent fee percentage will increase as agreed upon milestones in the litigation process are passed.
Jess G. Webster contributed to the information in these guidelines. He is a Maritime lawyer handling cases throughout the U.S. He is a principal with the Seattle law firm of Mikkelborg, Broz, Wells & Fryer, and he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.