FAQs – The Lawsuit Process
- Step 1. Choosing or changing attorneys
- Step 2. Preparing the case
- Step 3. Going to trial
- Step 4. Appeals and remands
- Step 5. Costs and monetary awards
Step 1. Choosing or changing attorneys
Questions: What questions should I ask when choosing an attorney?
Answer: Don’t be afraid to ask your attorney how experienced he or she is in the area of law of your legal problems. Ask how many years he or she has been practicing, what percentage of his time is devoted to cases like yours, how many trials the attorney has been involved in, etc.. It is important that you feel comfortable with the attorney you choose.
Questions: How can I be sure that I have the right attorney for my case?
Answer: It is important to hire an attorney who has knowledge of and experience in the specific area involved in your case. Ask the attorney questions about his or her experience in the area you need help; if he or she won’t spend time with you to answer your questions, find an attorney who will. If he or she does not appear to know much about your problem area, this is probably not the right attorney for your case.
Questions: What is the difference between co-counsel and of-counsel?
Answer: Both types of attorneys have an “association” with one another’s firms. Attorneys in an of-counsel relationship only refer cases to each other depending upon their areas of expertise. Those in a co-counsel position assist on a more involved basis such as providing personnel in preparation for trial.
Questions: What does Ad Litem mean?
Answer: Ad Litem means “friend of the court” and is used to refer to the person who is appointed by the court to represent a minor or incompetent person’s interest. An attorney Ad Litem, who must be a licensed attorney, is appointed to litigate the matter on behalf of the minor or incompetent person. A Guardian Ad Litem, who is not required to be an attorney, is appointed to look after their best interest but not actively litigate on his or her behalf.
Questions: What should I do if I want to change attorneys — and have Williams Hart represent me?
Answer: Williams Hart will not interfere with the attorney-client contractual relationship between you and your current attorney. Williams Hart will only be able to discuss your case with you ethically once you first raise the issue of changing attorneys with your present attorney, and then notify him or her in writing that you no longer want him or her to represent you on your case.
Questions: Will my case be delayed if I change attorneys?
Answer: Yes, there inevitably will be delays when changing attorneys. It is not good for your case to change attorneys too many times, since parts or all of your file can be lost. Also, it sends an unfavorable message about your case to the other side.
Step 2. Preparing the case
Questions: What is a mock trial and why do you have one?
Answer: A mock trial is a learning exercise for a trial team in which a jury hears the evidence of a case. The trial team learns about the jury’s attitudes, preferences and opinions through this process, and can then determine the best way to present that case to the actual jury that will hear the evidence when it goes to trial.
Questions: Do you have a mock trial for each case?
Answer: No, not for every case. Since we have taken many different types of cases to trial, we generally know what works and what doesn’t. However, there are more unusual cases that require investigation into how to best present it at trial.
Questions: Who pays for it?
Answer: Williams Hart pays all expenses required to get the case ready for trial, and is only reimbursed if there is a recovery in the case. So, if there is a recovery, the client will reimburse Williams Hart for the mock trial out of that recovery.
Questions: Why do I have to be deposed and what is involved?
Answer: In most cases, the plaintiff can expect to have his or her deposition taken. This simply means that the attorney(s) representing the parties sued in your lawsuit will have the opportunity to ask you questions under oath before the case goes to trial. Williams Hart attorneys make sure that our clients are fully prepared and familiar with the process before it begins. An attorney will be with you for your entire deposition to ensure that the deposition is conducted fairly and properly.
Questions: What are interrogatories and why do I need to complete them?
Answer: Interrogatories are usually the first discovery tool used in a case. They are questions presented by one side to the other which must be answered under oath within a time period specified by the court’s procedural rules. Complete and accurate answers are very important in response to any discovery question, and the attorneys, paralegals and legal assistants at Williams Hart will work with you to make sure everything is handled properly.
Questions: Why do I have to supplement my answers to interrogatories?
Answer: No later than thirty days prior to the start of trial, all parties have the opportunity to change and/or amend their answers to any and all discovery. This opportunity is vitally important to your case as your discovery response must be complete and accurate. Interrogatory answers are your testimony and must be consistent with your deposition testimony and other discovery responses you and/or your witnesses have given in your case.
Questions: What is an IME and why do I have to have one?
Answer: An independent medical examination (IME) is a medical examination by an independent doctor intended to give an unbiased medical picture of the plaintiff. In some cases, if there is more than one defendant or if special circumstances exist, more than one IME may be required.
Questions: Who pays for an IME?
Answer: The party requesting the examination, which is almost always the defendant. If the plaintiff is asked to be responsible for this expense, it will be handled like all the other legal costs on the case — Williams Hart will pay all expenses required to get the case ready for trial, and will only be reimbursed if there is a recovery in the client’s case. So, if there is recovery, the client reimburses Williams Hart for this expense out of that recovery.
Questions: What is an expert witness and how much do they cost?
Answer: An expert witness is an individual who has some specialized knowledge in a specific area that the common person does not have. In most of the cases handled by Williams Hart, expert testimony is required by law. Like most people, experts charge for their time, and they do so by the hour. However, like all other legal costs, Williams Hart advances these expenses and you do not reimburse Williams Hart until and unless a recovery is made in your case.
Questions: Why should I speak to a legal assistant?
Answer: The legal assistants at Williams Hart will more often be available to discuss your case with you than your attorney. They are educated and trained to assist the attorney, and they play a vital role in the development of our files. You should work with the legal assistants because they are speaking with you at the direction of the attorney they work for.
Questions: What does a legal assistant do?
Answer: Legal assistants do everything they can to assist the attorney in getting the case ready for trial and presenting the case to the court or jury at trial. Whether it is gathering information from the client, communicating with your doctors, or simply reviewing the file, everything they do is extremely important in the effort to achieve our common goal, to be prepared to win each and every case at the courthouse.
Questions: What does a lawclerk do?
Answer: Williams Hart hires law students from law schools throughout the state to assist the attorneys in the preparation of the cases. Depending on how much law school they have completed, law students can be very helpful in the preparation of a case.
Questions: What is the difference between a legal assistant and a paralegal?
Answer: According to the American Bar Association and the State Bar of Texas, the terms “paralegal” and “legal assistant” are interchangeable (in the same way that “attorney” and “lawyer” are interchangeable). Under the supervision of an attorney, a qualified legal assistant can handle almost every task in the preparation of your case except give legal advice and represent you in court. Most legal assistants have advanced education and training and continually update their knowledge and skills. A legal assistant works “hand in hand” with the attorney toward successful resolution of your case.
Step 3. Going to trial
Questions: What happens if I don’t want to have a court trial?
Answer: Your attorney will negotiate the best possible settlement of your case and recommend that you accept it.
Questions: Where is the result of the trial recorded?
Answer: In the case of civil trials, unless otherwise ordered by the judge, all verdicts are available to the public and are retained by the district clerk’s office.
Questions: Do I have to attend court throughout my trial?
Answer: Yes, without exception.
Questions: How long will the trial last?
Answer: Each case is different, as the length of a trial depends on many factors, some of which include the number of witnesses to testify, the number of parties to the suit, the number of exhibits to introduce into evidence and the court’s schedule.
Questions: What time does trial start?
Answer: Each court sets its own schedule. Most courts begin their trial day between 8:00 a.m. and 9:00 a.m. each day. A safe rule of thumb is plan to arrive 30 minutes early every day.
Questions: How do I get to the courthouse and where can I park?
Answer: When it is time for you to go to the courthouse, your attorney and/or his or her staff will make sure you know where to go, how to get there and where to park.
Questions: What sort of clothes should I wear to court?
Answer: That always depends on the type of case being heard by the jury and the county where the case is being tried. As a general rule, however, it is best to dress in such a way to show respect for the court. This usually means a suit or coat and tie. However, in some counties, slacks or pants and a clean, pressed shirt are acceptable. Jeans, shorts, tank tops, t-shirts and sandals should never be worn to court.
Questions: Can I talk in court?
Answer: No, you may only speak to your attorney, except when testifying and when asked a question by the judge.
Questions: Are we permitted to eat and drink while in court?
Answer: Generally, no. Some courts allow water at the counsel table; others may allow canned non-alcoholic beverages. Food is never allowed in the courtroom. The rules of each court dictate which, if any, beverages are permitted in the courtroom.
Questions: Why shouldn’t I speak to the members of the jury?
Answer: Everyone except the court’s bailiff is prohibited from speaking with the jurors. This includes offerings of food, drinks, gum, sweaters, coats, and the like, and applies to everyone — all parties, attorneys and their assistants, witnesses, spectators, etc.
Step 4. Appeals and remands
Questions: What happens if my case goes on appeal?
Answer: Either party can appeal the judgment in a case. Williams Hart is fortunate to have Richard Countiss as of Counsel for the sole purpose of handling these appeals. In many instances, the attorney-client contract provides for an additional percentage to the law firm if an appeal is filed.
Questions: Who pays for the appeal?
Answer: The attorney-client contract with our clients states that Williams Hart will receive an additional percentage fee for filing and handling or responding to an appeal.
Questions: What is a “reverse and remand” of trial and how can this happen? Will it happen to my case?
Answer: “Reversed and Remanded” is a term used by the appellate courts to describe the decision it made on a case. This particular decision means that the court found some error at the trial which leaves no alternative but for the case to have a new trial. While the attorneys with Williams Hart want the judge in every case to rule correctly on all matters, that does not always happen, and Williams Hart cannot guarantee a specific result.
Step 5. Costs and monetary awards
Questions: How much is my case worth?
Answer: Unfortunately, this question cannot be answered before the case is investigated, since each case must be evaluated on an individual basis. The attorneys at Williams Hart are experienced in evaluating cases and will give you their opinion after an investigation has been completed. However, an exact dollar amount or a guaranteed amount will not be given at any time.
Questions: How much will legal representation cost me?
Answer: Williams Hart takes cases on a contingency fee basis. This means we do not charge our clients by the hour for legal representation. Williams Hart only gets paid its fees and reimbursement of expenses when a recovery is made in your case. If no recovery is made, no fees or expenses are paid.
Questions: Do I have to pay for expenses regardless of whether we win or lose?
Answer: No. You only pay for expenses if a recovery is made in your case.
Questions: Why does the legal fee increase if we have to go to trial?
Answer: It takes much more time and effort to prepare a case for trial and to take it to trial than it does to settle, so our fee increases for trial cases.
Questions: When will I receive my money?
Answer: It depends. If your case has been settled, your settlement can be paid only after the settlement papers have been signed and the funds have been deposited into Williams Hart‘s trust account. If a law suit must be filed, it may be 18 months or more before a settlement can be achieved or a jury award obtained. Even then, the losing party may appeal the jury’s decision, which may mean it will take longer for you to receive your award.
Questions: Is a settlement a regular monthly payment?
Answer: Usually, but not always. Sometimes clients prefer to have their settlements paid in one lump sum, while others prefer to receive their settlement checks monthly or yearly. Feel free to consult with your attorney on this issue.
Questions: Why do we have to wait ten working days after my settlement check comes in?
Answer: Settlements, which are usually paid by check or bank draft, are deposited into Williams Hart‘s trust account upon receipt. No checks can be written from the trust account until the settlement check has cleared the bank. After the check clears, the client receives his or her money, and then the attorneys’ fees and expenses are paid or reimbursed.
Questions: Do I have to pay taxes on settlements or verdicts in my favor?
Answer: Williams Hart does not and cannot give tax advice. Please ask your certified tax accountant all of your questions regarding taxes.