How to Choose the Best Business Litigation Attorney? Part 3

April 23, 2024

How do you choose the most ideal commercial litigation attorney for a case?

In this post, we continue breaking down Chief Technology Officer Kyle O’Hehir’s X post entitled “HOW TO HIRE GOOD ATTORNEYS.” O’Hehir’s guide is fodder for discussion about how attorneys can best serve clients.

It is a beautiful thing when a client finds the perfect attorney for them—personality-wise and in terms of competence. Lawyers will know exactly what I am talking about. Clients in different industries and geographic regions have different “litigation personalities,” goals, attitudes toward litigation and levels of risk tolerance. There are many great litigation attorneys in Cincinnati and across Ohio to choose from—but which is the “right” one?

While many attorneys are writing off O’Hehir’s X post as sophomoric and uninformed, I appreciate that it provides insight into what clients are looking for when selecting an attorney for a high-stakes business litigation matter.

How Should Clients Search for the Best Ohio Commercial Litigation Attorney for Their Case?

To be the best fit personality-wise, the attorney needs to understand what the client really wants and ultimately deliver. The best business litigation attorneys are extremely candid with the client at the outset—goals, risks, fees, options, potential outcomes, etc.—and push back against the client when necessary while still having the fearlessness and grit to give the client what they want.

A client who has the gall to go to trial in a high-stakes cases absent an acceptable settlement needs an attorney willing and able to go all the way. Side note: clients also need attorneys who are not afraid to stop them from making poor decisions. “The proper way for attorneys to advise aggressive clients is not the subject of this post—an entire book could be written about that.”

As far as finding the most ideal or best business litigation attorney, there are many factors—the venue, the Judge, opposing counsel, the opposing party, the amount in controversy, what the case is about, the legal issues, the industry, etc. O’Hehir’s point about looking up local dockets to see who represents various parties is advanced compared to how most non-lawyers search for attorneys. In fact, that is what attorneys often do when looking for local counsel when their clients are sued in Ohio or other jurisdictions.

Top Commercial Litigation Attorneys Develop Expertise in the Subject Industry

The industry factor may be underappreciated here. It is crucial for an attorney to understand the client’s industry in any business litigation.

Sure, the case might involve a straightforward breach of contract, but not knowing the landmines, pressure points and legal issues unique to the industry—financial services, retail, food & beverage, manufacturing, oil & gas, etc.—can lead to disaster and missed opportunity. The very best business litigation attorneys undertake to gain a deep understanding of the industry at play. Having handled cases involving payments industry disputes and representing merchant cash advance companies for several years, I can tell you that if I were a player in the payments ecosystem or an MCA company, I would not want to be represented by an attorney unfamiliar with the industry unless they were capable of quickly getting up to speed.

The opposing counsel/opposing party factor is more intuitive. In one of the biggest cases I ever handled, my client’s out-of-state attorney conducted a PACER search and found a recent case where I had litigated against the same opposing party and opposing counsel in a similar case and obtained a favorable result. The client hired me over commercial litigation attorneys at several top Ohio firms, which was a huge honor. (I am proud to say that we won the case.)

O’Hehir is completely right—if you look up an attorney and see that in the past year they handled three evictions, two divorces and a slip-and-fall case, chances are that attorney is not the BEST Ohio business litigation attorney for a big case. By contrast, if you find an attorney who has handled multiple business litigation cases in that county in the past year, that is a good sign. That being said, it would be dangerous for a non-attorney to rely on a docket search alone.

Good Judgment is Paramount for Commercial Litigation Attorneys

An attorney’s judgment is, without doubt, their greatest asset. My biggest mentor once told me, “Anyone can learn to litigate a case—it’s not that hard. People hire me for my judgment.” That always stuck with me.

It is crucial for an attorney to properly assess the case and advise the client at the outset. Is it even worth bringing a case? What is it likely to cost? Excellent judgment is essential here. Sometimes, based on the industry involved or how I read between the lines when the client tells their story (in addition to numerous other indications), it is clear that the litigation will be more drawn out than what the client might intuitively expect for their “simple” case. A lot of lawyers have surprisingly bad judgment when it comes to giving this guidance, and then the client is unhappy when the lawyer has racked up a bill that exceeds the amount in controversy due to lack of foresight.

Do Attorneys Provide Good Attorney Referrals in Ohio Commercial Litigation Matters?

Here, I push back against O’Hehir’s contention that attorneys provide terrible referrals. Naturally, attorneys know things that non-attorneys have no way of knowing. A practical attorney with an innate understanding of the issues discussed in this post will absolutely provide an excellent referral. The lawyer has to “understand the assignment,” as the kids say. In the case referenced above, it would have been crazy for the client to ask me if I was a “dickhead” and make a decision based on my response in lieu of taking a more informed attorney referral. That being said, O’Hehir is right that attorneys may not refer cases to—in his words—“dickhead attorneys” whom they despise.

Should Clients Seek Out “Aggressive” Business Litigation Attorneys?

Short answer: it depends what you mean by “aggressive.” An attorney should absolutely be aggressive—but in the right ways.

Lawyer Twitter is pushing back hardest on O’Hehir’s suggestion that clients should seek out “dickhead” attorneys. My take is that clients want and deserve attorneys with grit who have the drive to win—not attorneys who talk a big game and then press the client to settle on the eve of trial. I know of one case where a firm took a case to trial, and the client was surprised—almost shocked—that the firm did not push them to settle at the last minute. Apparently, they had even set aside hundreds of thousands of dollars in anticipation of that happening. But the attorney representing the client did what they were hired to do: try the case and win.

To accomplish this, a lawyer need not make it their mission to make the opposing counsel’s life miserable. I often find that lawyers who do this don’t have their client’s true interests at heart. Many are also incompetent or not respected by the Court. The best attorneys I have ever gone up against were very aggressive, yet, even if obnoxious at times, highly respectful. The very best attorneys can accomplish these even in an extremely contentious case.

Shameless Plug for Durst Kerridge

At Durst Kerridge, we truly love what we do. Our goal is to be the absolute best commercial litigation attorneys in Ohio. We get to know the client, their business and the industry in which they operate, define success early and strive to achieve better than expected results.

Our experience and track record of success in Ohio commercial litigation, among other factors, make us well-qualified to advise you if you are facing litigation in the greater Cincinnati area or elsewhere in Ohio, or if you need Ohio local counsel. Urgent matters are welcomed.

To speak with us, call (513) 621-4999 or reach out to Alex J. Durst or Paul R. Kerridge.

Alex J. Durst

Alex J. Durst is a civil trial attorney with over a decade of experience handling commercial and complex civil litigation matters on behalf of clients across a wide range of industries, with an emphasis on financial services litigation and high-dollar-value breach of contract claims.

Contact Durst Today

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