Nursing home abuse and neglect is a very serious subject and is a chronic national issue. If you believe that your family member may be suffering from nursing home abuse or neglect, you need to meet with an attorney to learn your legal options. Before choosing an attorney to represent your family, here are five questions to ask.

How long have you practiced elder law?
Many attorneys may be well-versed in general areas of elder law but not the specific area of abuse and neglect. An attorney who has experience handling wills, trusts, or probate issues doesn’t necessarily have the knowledge necessary to take an abuse and neglect case to trial and win. An attorney that represents nursing home abuse cases must be experienced in that form of civil litigation if not entirely specializing in it. Make sure that when an attorney says they practice elder law, he or she has experience representing families and individuals who were harmed by nursing home facilities or has access to such an attorney.

Do you have experience with similar cases?
It’s important to do your research and find the best abuse and neglect attorney for your needs. When interviewing an attorney, find out how many years he or she has been working in the field. How many cases have they worked on that are similar to yours? What were the outcomes? Be specific and ask how many abuse/neglect cases he or she has tried before a jury. If he or she were to take your case, what do they think the likely outcome will be? A good attorney will have a proven track record of successful cases and will be willing to talk about them. If your case is a wrongful death case, the attorney’s experience is even more important.

How familiar are you with state laws?
Because the laws that govern nursing home abuse cases vary from state to state, make sure that the attorney has experience specific to the state where the incident occurred. State laws change all the time; it’s important to find an attorney that understands the laws in your state and has a firm grasp of how they will impact your specific situation. Some of the differences will be minor but others such as limitations on damages or the length of time you have to file a claim can be substantial. You want someone who knows these differences.

Will you be part of the entire process?
One of the most important factors to develop a successful lawyer-client relationship is confidence in your attorney and the ability to access the law firm when needed. Will you be dealing with one lawyer? A team of lawyers? Mostly paralegals? Ask who will make up your legal team and the roles they will play. Ideally, you should have one particular attorney assigned to handle your case and not have your files transferred back and forth between staff. Your attorney should also be willing and ready to provide references.

Do you educate others about elder law issues?
The saying goes “Actions speak louder than words.” Ask if he or she belongs to any organizations that focus on issues affecting the elderly. Ask how active their participation outside of the office is and how frequently they engage with supporting organizations. Are they members of any relevant organizations? Do they serve in leadership roles in organizations that champion elder law? An attorney who goes outside of his or her daily practice to help educate people about the numerous issues facing the elderly demonstrates that he or she is truly dedicated to the community at large and not just his or her career. Ask him or her about their recognitions/awards or the articles and presentations that they’ve done in their field. Also ask if he or she teaches or what they’ve done to educate the public.

These five questions are not the only considerations you should have when choosing an elder law abuse and neglect attorney. Other things to consider include their demeanor and the rapport you have with them. Because many cases can go on for a long time and you will have to work with your attorney repeatedly, look for someone who you like and are comfortable with. It may take time to find an attorney who has the experience needed and who you trust, but don’t rush this process. They will be representing you in a very personal and complex matter so it’s important to make the right choice.

Our office is always available to help answer any questions you may have about your situation. Don’t hesitate to call us for a free consultation to evaluate your case. Our newest article “The Intersection of Tort Law and Nursing Home Abuse and Neglect Litigation” will be published in the National Association of Elder Law Attorneys Journal November 2018.

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