Choosing Qui Tam Attorneys

One of the most important steps you will take in filing a successful qui tam case is choosing the right attorney. Not only do you have to choose the attorney that has enough skill and resources to handle a qui tam action, you also need to pick an attorney that shares your philosophy of why you are filing the suit.

There are certain types of attorneys that are well suited for the unique type and protracted work of a qui tam suit.  Attorneys that specialize in employment discrimination, class action, personal injury, shareholders suit and other plaintiff law are used to fronting costs and attorney fees in a lawsuit, but may not have the experience of handling qui tam actions.  There are many attorneys around the country that specialize in qui tam and have been very successful.

Often a whistleblower will feel more comfortable working with a local attorney whom they know, but does not have any experience with qui tam.  By itself, this can turn out to be a big problem for the whistleblower and the attorney in understanding the process, how the Justice Department works and sharing a case with the government.  If you want to use a sole practitioner or a small firm, and the attorney is inexperienced in qui tam actions, you may want to suggest that they work with, or consult, an attorney with significant qui tam experience before moving forward with the case.

Finding a good attorney can be a frustrating experience. One way to start is to ask an attorney that you trust for a reference, keeping in mind the amount of resources that will be needed to succeed. Another resource for finding qui tam attorneys is to google them on the internet.

Here are some of the questions that you should ask attorneys when you are considering their services:

  • How much time and resources are you willing to put into the case before you file it?  How much proof will you want before you decide to take and file the case. Although it may be flattering for an attorney to take your word on the alleged fraud, a good attorney will want to do research and gather a fair amount of evidence, documents and potential witnesses to substantiate your claim and focus the case before filing a case. Laying the groundwork before filing the case will greatly enhance the chance that the government will be successful and intervene and ultimately you will be successful.
  • What is your track record on qui tam and other similar type cases? How many cases have you tried in Federal Court?  What attracts you to doing qui tam cases?.   If they haven’t done any qui tam cases, ask what their track record is on employment, class action, malpractice and personal injury cases if they have done any. If the attorney does not have any qui tam experience, but brushes off your questions, be concerned about working with that attorney.
  • How do you set up your working relationship with the whistleblower-client? How much input will you expect from me in this case? How often will I be informed about the progress of the case? Will I be able to contact you with any questions that I might have? This is where you need to set up your personal relationship with the attorney. You are hiring them for their expertise in law and you can’t expect them to call you with every decision, but you should remember that ultimately they are working for you. You should not tell them how to practice law, but they should also not pretend to know everything about your area of expertise and should want to have you involved in the factual and investigative part of the case. If the attorneys seem put-off with your interest in working on the case or desire to keep informed, be concerned.
  • What is your retainer agreement? Are you willing to handle my case on a contingency fee?  What percentage of my portion of the recovery will you want? Will you also be asking the court for reasonable attorney fees on top of your portion of my recovery? How do you deal with costs in splitting up my recovery? May I see a copy of your standard retainer agreement? This subject will be the most sensitive subject between you and the attorney. Most attorneys see your recovery as a bounty that is much different than a damage award such as in an employment suit that is supposed to help you recover from being damaged. Therefore, most qui tam attorneys have been asking around 50% of your recovery as well as attorney fees and costs from the defendant. Because attorneys have to front the costs and attorney fees in this case, they see these cases as investments and want to see a good return on their money and time invested. Keep that in mind as you negotiate with them. When you receive their retainer agreement, it would be a very good idea to review it with an attorney that you trust and know personally. As in any profession, there are a few attorneys that will try to take advantage of desperate whistleblowers and you need to be careful.
  • Finally, you need to use your gut instincts in picking an attorney. Don’t go to an attorney being desperate for them to take your case or an unscrupulous attorney may take advantage of you. You are looking for an attorney that is confident and knowledgeable, but is willing to listen and learn. Arrogant or unsympathetic attorneys may be able to win your case for you, but you can be miserable for years working with someone that you don’t like or trust. If you have any more questions or need a resource to sort out the best type of attorney for the case, don’t hesitate to call us.