Personal Injury Litigation
The key in personal injury and other general liability cases is to identify your case's strengths and weaknesses very early on. People assume this is true for plaintiffs only, but it is equally true for defendants. Defense attorneys just rarely do this analysis because it is more profitable to keep hunting through the dark for six months than to evaluate your case early on and setup a gameplan.
Not every case is the same, and in our opinion, a good lawyer generally needs to evaluate the case within the first 30 days from receiving it to at least set out a road map of what needs to be accomplished. This evaluation doesn't mean your lawyer should tell you the precise case value or predict the future, but it just means that the lawyer needs to know what weaknesses there may be and also what he or she doesn't know. Discovery moves quickly, and if you don't have a proper analysis of your case's strengths and weaknesses, you can run into a multitude of issues - the wrong experts, the wrong case narrative, or the wrong tactic in settlement negotiations.
It's not just about the lawyer understanding the strengths and weaknesses of the case, though -- the client needs to know, too. Clients tend to take it personally when their lawyer tells them an aspect of their case is weak, and sometimes a party will try and modify the facts to make his or her case seem stronger than it is. Don't do this. Listen to your lawyer and be prepared to recognize that few claims or defenses are perfect. If your lawyer tells you your case is perfect, that means something is probably being missed. Just about every case has its warts, and it's important to recognize those as soon as possible and address them through discovery or negotiation. Some problems can't be fixed, but the sooner you know that the better. That can help you decide whether to aggressively press your matter to trial or direct your efforts towards bolstering your case in settlement discussions, depending on the circumstances.
Here at Muehlbauer Law Office, we'll take the time to get deep into the details of your case and evaluate where the strengths and weaknesses lie as early on as we can. We're not afraid to give you our frank analysis. We don't hedge our bets and hold back analysis until the eve of trial. The conversations won't always be easy, but it's better than telling you an optimistic case assessment for two years only to drastically change the analysis down the road because we wanted you to feel good about your case (and make money in the interim).
The ideology for the Muehlbauer Law Office is summed up in the following 5 points:
- Know your case like the back of your hand. Call us anytime with questions and we'll answer them and not just say "we'll get back to you" while we walk down the hall to ask someone else. Unlike larger firms, we don't have junior associates running everything and whispering in our ear - we know our cases inside and out. That's our job.
- Evaluate your case early. Identify the strengths and weaknesses early on and let the client know. Don't be afraid to take a position on an issue and explain why; lawyers don't get hired to write "To Be Determined" in every line of a case evaluation. Use experience and knowledge of the law to give recommendations on a course of action, even if the facts are imperfectly known. If early analysis ends up being inaccurate later on, explain to the client why that is and how it changes the strategy as soon as you know.
- Don't issue garbage discovery requests. Here at MLO we pride ourselves on asking questions that we want answered. We don't use form interrogatories or issue 40 obnoxious and redundant requests just so we can bill for writing them. We want to show our opponent we know the law, we're efficient, and we're really good at what we do. You don't show that by issuing inapplicable, useless, and redundant discovery.
- Make a substantive offer to opposing counsel as early as possible. The offer should be based on the expectation of a favorable verdict while also considering the costs inherent in litigation. Give opposing counsel every opportunity to reach an early resolution and move on to his or her next case. It just may work, and at a minimum it will tell you where your opponent is at.
- Manage costs by litigating the case in phases. This means we don't front-load costs or work - we handle each task as necessary, but keep a constant line of communication open with opposing counsel on settlement. This allows you to make sure you are only spending what needs to be spent to get the best result and not just spending for the sake of spending.
- Limit motion practice to only those motions that make sense for the case. Don't use a shotgun approach hoping that the judge will like one of your many scattered arguments; focus on only the best arguments and give the judge the best quality brief you can on those issues.
- Keep the client and/or carrier informed in a way that they want. This means understanding that spending 4 hours writing a status report the client doesn't want or need is unacceptable. We tailor communication to the client's desires. Most of our clients tell us they want short e-mails when anything important happens and status reports periodically summing up the key developments over a 120-day period.
This ideology has developed over the years and served us well. We think our clients appreciate that the term "working up the file" makes us as sick as it does them. Our motto when it comes to handling defense files is "There are always other cases." This means that putting the client's interests first is the best form of business development. Excessively billing a file to "cash in" or delaying settlement to make sure the file is "profitable enough" will only alienate your client and ensure that they never return. Doing the right thing by the client seems to always work out for the best.