The relationship of attorney and client is based on trust and confidence. Selecting an attorney is an important decision that should be based on his or her knowledge, experience with the particular subject matter, and reputation. In most states, the agreement between the attorney and client is required to be put into writing; whether or not this is required, it is the best practice because it avoids misunderstandings.
How a dog bite case is handled
Different attorneys and law firms handle cases differently. There are small firms and large firms. Here is a description of how one firm handles dog bite cases:
At Kenneth M. Phillips Law Offices, we work as a team. Mr. Phillips is team leader. He has a number of assistants:
- Mary is a certified paralegal who assists him by reviewing evidence and drafting documents.
- Kristine is a legal secretary who receives a list of necessary evidence from Mr. Phillips; her role is to gather this evidence.
- Bob O'Day is a licensed private investigator at the firm of Searchlight Investigations, who is retained by our firm to investigate anything that Mr. Phillips believes will be an issue in your case.
- Catherine is a translator (English and French).
We do not charge you anything up front. We work on a pure contingency fee basis. When money comes in, we receive one-third of it in exchange for our services; if the client is a minor, however, the fee rate may be less because of court rules. We also pay all of the costs of making your case "happen" such as getting medical records and doing the investigation. In fact, we will pay to send you to a very good, board certified plastic surgeon at some point, NOT for treatment (because we don't pay for your treatment) but to get a detailed medical-legal report that will help us get your case resolved.
If there is no lawsuit, these costs usually come to around $2,000 but could be higher or lower. We do not ask you to contribute anything toward those costs. We pay them and if and when money comes in, we get reimbursed for them. In other words, when money comes in on your case, we receive one-third for our services plus reimbursement for those costs.
After you sign and return the Attorney Retainer Agreement, you become our client and Mr. Phillips determines what the case plan will be. Usually we develop the case and try to settle it without filing a lawsuit. We do not file a lawsuit without Mr. Phillips discussing it with you. If he and you decide a lawsuit is necessary, the attorneys fee goes from 33-1/3rd percent to 40 percent. This is a 7 percent increase but it is for a great deal of extra work on our part. Once again, there will be no lawsuit unless Mr. Phillips gets on the phone with you and discusses it with you, and gets your consent.
The Attorney Retainer Agreement has some important provisions in it, and therefore must be read completely. Obviously you must rely on the agreement itself and not this summary of it. One important provision has to do with how your case is handled if it is litigated and if it is in a state other than California. In those two situations Mr. Phillips joins up with other lawyers hand-picked by him for their experience in dog bite cases. This enables us to have the benefit of a lot more legal "manpower" and it ensures that all local laws are followed. There is no additional cost to you, because the attorneys split Mr. Phillips' legal fee. We will tell you about the local lawyer before any such arrangement is made, and you will be asked to sign a letter consenting to it. If you case is in California and goes into litigation, we may or may not join with other lawyers although we usually do, under the same terms.
The Attorney Retainer Agreement is in writing and must be signed by you, along with a couple of other documents. They are in writing because of consumer protection laws -- in other words, for your benefit to avoid misunderstandings. The Attorney Retainer Agreement is written in plain English but if you don't understand something, please call us and Mr. Phillips will discuss it with you.
If you don't have any questions, we send you the file opening documents at the beginning of our attorney-client relationship. After you review them, tell us your questions if you have any. Then sign and return the three documents as quickly as possible so that we can open your file. It is difficult for us when there is no file and technically you are not our client until the docuements are signed. Also, we cannot hold open a spot for you on our client list for too long.
The stages that your case will go through might be few or many, depending on the issues and people involved. Here is a list of the possible phases of a dog bite case:
Medical Evidence Retrieval and Review
Loss of Income
Medical Payment Reimbursement per Guest Medical Coverage
Obtaining Final Medical Reports
Demand for Settlement
Uninsured Case Procedures
Filing the Complaint to Commence a Lawsuit
Establishing the Lawsuit is At Issue
Alternative Dispute Resolution
Minors Compromise Proceedings
As stated above, not every case will go through each phase, but the attorney who handles your case has to be prepared to do everything necessary no matter how complicated your case gets. Again, knowledge and experience are key factors in selecting a lawyer for a dog bite case, and any other case.