If the truth was found in billboards one would think the key qualities for a medical malpractice lawyer are clenched fists (preferably around hundred dollar bills) and the willingness to kick butt. These, however, are the last characteristics I would look for if I needed a medical malpractice lawyer. No matter what you’ve heard (or what these advertisers tell you) there are no get-rich-quick schemes in medical malpractice litigation, and arrogance is a character flaw, not a strength. If I needed a malpractice lawyer, here’s what I would want:
Humility. By humility, I do not mean fear or weakness, but a realistic understanding that medical malpractice litigation is supremely difficult and requires maximum skill and ability. If some lawyer talked to me about “slam dunks,” “big checks,” or any other variation of the “show me the money” attitude I would run the other way–fast.
Confident courage. For clients and the lawyers they hire, medical litigation is stressful and relentless. The defense is well-funded, smart, and they never stop defending. In the face of such an enemy, it is easy to get discouraged and overwhelmed (like most of the Israelites did when they saw Goliath). Confident courage is the other side of humility. A lawyer who understands and is realistic about what he is facing, but willingly faces it because he believes in himself (confidence, not arrogance) is the lawyer for me.
Patient listening. A frequent pattern I see in medical malpractice cases is the doctor who doesn’t listen to his patient and consequently doesn’t hear the key information necessary to an accurate diagnosis. Lawyers are the same way. The client is the most important person in any legal case. A lawyer who interrupts me, tells me what I’m thinking (or worse, what I’m feeling), or who sees me as a case instead of a client is not a lawyer I want.
Storyteller. Telling my story is the other side of patiently listening to me. If, after telling him what happened to me, a lawyer cannot re-frame the events into a story that all people can relate to, then he is not capable of handling a medical case. For example, a doctor making the wrong diagnosis is almost always about him not paying attention–something everyone understands–rather than failing to memorize or recognize signs and symptoms from a medical textbook. A lawyer who cannot see the difference will never be my lawyer.
Money. I agree that having money is not a characteristic as much as it is a circumstance, but it is one that cannot be ignored. Not only is medical malpractice litigation complex and difficult, it is also darn expensive when done right. Hiring quality experts, running focus groups, creating top-notch trial exhibits all cost money and if the lawyer who wants my case doesn’t have the means (i.e., the money) to do these things, then he is not the right lawyer. Sorry, but ability without means is like a sports car without gas.