Choosing an Attorney
The Boston Herald published an article the other day about a local asbestos case involving a woman who died tragically of mesothelioma some years ago. The paper went on to quote some experts from around the country, and two of the comments struck me as particularly relevant. One person noted that mesothelioma is "a disease that has been ignored for decades." I found that a bit curious because at least at my office, mesothelioma has been our primary focus for over 30 years. It is true that much remains to be done, but it’s also true that the people who did the most to ignore asbestos disease and mesothelioma are the leaders of American industry who have known since the 1930s that asbestos was causing cancer, who were seeing cases of mesothelioma by the 1940s and 1950s, and who knew by 1960 without question that mesothelioma was a signal disease of asbestos exposure. The Herald went on to say that "in the past year, attorney competition for patients suffering from mesothelioma has heated up . . . ."
There is no doubt that lawyers are competing for new business, but this is not an asbestos phenomenon. Lawyers in all fields compete for new clients just as all businesses seek new customers. If you want to see enough lawyer ads to last a lifetime, just type mesothelioma into your favorite search engine and see what happens, or turn on cable TV late at night, or pick up any magazine devoted to veterans or other heavily exposed groups. But relying on these advertising efforts to select an attorney is a big mistake. There are reasonable ways to make such selection and appropriate questions to ask. There are lawyer web sites that read like the National Enquirer or other tabloids; there are lawyer web sites masquerading as non-profit informational public service resources; there are lawyer web sites that trace readers and make unsolicited "cold calls" to people who visit their sites, trying to sign them up as clients. I think that’s a shame, and I don’t do it.
I started our web site in 1998 because I lost a client to just such efforts. A gentleman who lived about 80 miles away from our office was given my name by his neighbor, whose case I had handled. Just as we were getting started, his daughter went online and found a lawyer on the East Coast who had a large web presence. That lawyer signed them up and then transferred the case to another lawyer in California, who seemed to lose interest after the gentleman passed away. Thereafter, the family came back to me, rather sheepishly, and asked if I would please take over the case. I did, but it taught me a great lesson. I learned that there were people out there who thought that a web site was more "real" than an office a short drive away with 100 people working very hard in 27,000 square feet of a real office building. I rapidly concluded that if there were people who thought that a web site was more real than an office building, I had better build a web site. So we did.
But I think what we do is too important and our clients’ problems are too serious to trivialize them, or publicize their personal business. So, we decided that our web site would serve primarily as an information resource for people, helping them to understand what asbestos is, what asbestos does, and what can be done to manage both medical and legal consequences. It seems like we got it right – The Lancet, one of the world’s most prestigious medical journals, published a survey article about asbestos information resources and recognized our web site as one of the best out there. We have won other awards and recognition, but nothing is as satisfying as a family member contacting us to thank us for providing all the information they needed to understand what had happened to a loved one, even when they don’t ask for our assistance.