Ever wondered what attorney ratings and those fancy legal designations such as Martindale-Hubbell, Best Lawyers or Super Lawyers are all about? It turns out they indicate more than just a cape-wearing attorney who leaps tall buildings in a single bound.
The internet serves as a tremendous tool when researching an attorney, but it’s best to proceed with caution. The internet gives anyone and everyone a soapbox, and a soapbox does not always equal credibility. Therefore, these designations play an important role in the decision-making process.
Numerous lawyer rating companies exist, promising to highlight the best and brightest in the industry. However, they’re not all created equal.
The best attorney rating bodies operate independently of advertising influence, meaning there is no financial obligation to be considered. Super Lawyers — cape not included — is one of the better known, albeit slightly less exclusive lists, which takes into account third-party research and client reviews and testimonials. Best Lawyers partners with U.S. News & World Report to conduct a rigorous nomination process utilizing both client and peer reviews. The candidates then go through a peer review within their primary practice areas and geographic locations.
The crème de la crème, industry gold standard is the Martindale-Hubbell Peer Review Ratings and has been for more than 130 years. Using a meticulous review method, the Martindale-Hubbell system asks attorneys to appraise their peers’ legal acumen and ethical abilities. Coupled with the Martindale-Hubbell Client Review Ratings — in which clients assess communication ability, quality of service, responsiveness and financial value — a holistic estimation of an attorney’s qualifications is generated.
Martindale-Hubbell designates three attorney rating levels based upon the peer reviews a lawyer receives. A Martindale-Hubbell NotableSM rating indicates a strong ethical standard rating, and the Martindale-Hubbell DistinguishedSM rating recognizes a lawyer as being widely respected among his or her peers for high professional achievement and ethical standards. Attorneys with the highest scores for legal knowledge, communication skills and ethical standards are assigned the prestigious AV Preeminent rating, placing them in the top 3 percent of their peers.
These attorney rating systems break down into sub-specialties, which can be a useful tool for consumers sifting through the sea of attorneys with “S” emblazoned on their suits. The fact is, life has become more complicated, thus the laws regarding life have become more complicated. Just as doctors often practice in a particular field of medicine, lawyers often practice in a particular field of law.
In keeping with the medical analogy, let’s say a person is experiencing a great deal of pain in his knee. This person would likely visit his family doctor, who may determine a visit to the orthopedic surgeon is necessary. The same holds true for lawyers. When approached with a complicated trust case, a family attorney may decide to refer a client to a colleague in the field with experience handling the complexities of this type of case.
In personal injury law, injured parties often initially consult with a family attorney — just as one would consult with a family doctor — who then refers the client to a firm that specifically practices in this area. The initial work-up of case is when the foundation is poured, so to speak. Just as a contractor has a blueprint for the entirety of a house to be built upon this foundation, an experienced trial lawyer plans out a case from the ground up, as well.
What might arise at the end of a case is based upon what happens at the beginning. For instance, when representing a client who was injured in a rear-end collision, it’s crucial to investigate the tire marks present at the scene of the accident. By measuring the marks on the road, an attorney can later call in an expert to testify on the speed of the vehicles, based upon certain principles of physics. Knowing how to identify valuable pieces of evidence and depose with specific outcomes in mind comes with the experience of practicing a certain type of law.
The credibility associated with Martindale-Hubbell or the other attorney rating systems assists family attorneys in matching their clients with a well-respected, knowledgeable attorney who can guide them through the intricacies of a specific field of law. Some people don’t have a family lawyer, but suddenly find themselves in the position of needing an attorney. They are then left with the resources of word of mouth and internet research. Once again, rating agencies offer consumers a reliable source when selecting an attorney to support them through a challenging time.
Beyond ratings, a trusted attorney will be able to tell you when a case is within his or her practice area or make an appropriate referral so that you can get the help you need. All you need to do is ask.
Jeffrey M. Feldman is a founding partner at Feldman, Kleidman, Coffey & Sappe LLP, a Fishkill-based firm serving clients in the Hudson Valley and Capital District for more than 30 years.
Jeffrey M. Feldman, For the Poughkeepsie Journal 3:02 p.m. EST December 15, 2016
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