Finding and Consulting With a Whistleblower Lawyer

Finding an appropriate lawyer you can work with to explore your legal rights and pursue a claim will take some research and work.  Has the lawyer handled your type of case before?  With what results?  Do you feel comfortable with the lawyer?

How do I find the right lawyers to represent me in whistleblower or False Claims Act qui tam cases?

Finding a good attorney and law firm(s) can be a frustrating experience.  It is probably best to do some research yourself and to consult several sources in your search.

One way to start is to ask an attorney that you trust for a reference to a lawyer experienced and knowledgeable in the field. Ask the referring lawyer to keep in mind the amount of attorney time and financial resources that will be needed to succeed, as well as the length of time involved.  When seeking referrals, ask for attorneys who have successful experience in employment law and in litigation.

Another method is to contact groups and individuals who have experience with employment attorneys, such as GAP, Taxpayers Against Fraud (TAF), National Whistleblower Center, National Employment Lawyers Association (or their state affiliate), or other nonprofit groups for resources for finding qualified lawyers in your area, and their expertise. (Many of these groups have websites, with their web addresses listed in the "Helpful Links" section of this website.)  

Also, traditional sources such as the local bar association or relevant committees of the American Bar Association (ABA), American Trial Lawyers Association (ATLA), or National Employment Lawyers Association (NELA), can help identify respected specialists or, at least, those who claim expertise.

Your local public library should have a copy of the comprehensive lawyer's directory, known as "Martindale-Hubbell." This directory is also available online.  It lists attorneys by state and city, and it may give you some idea of the types of cases and number of attorneys each firm has. You can check a lawyer’s rated expertise and character in Martindale-Hubbell at your local library—and online. Normally, you will want an attorney or law firm rated "AV."  In the Martindale-Hubbell system, the A, B, or C rating refers to legal ability, A being the highest.  The "V" rating indicates that other lawyers have rated the attorney as having high legal ethics.

Additionally, many law firms have websites that allow you to inform yourself about particular lawyers or law firms before you ever call or contact them.

What kinds of characteristics should a whistleblower look for in a prospective attorney?

Ideally, your lawyer will have most, if not all, of the following credentials:

  1. Experience in whistleblower or qui tam False Claims Act litigation.
  2. Experience in employment and labor law.
  3. Willingness to take a case on a “contingent fee” basis—without payment for attorneys fees unless the case is ultimately successful.
  4. Particularly in qui tam cases, ability to “advance” or pay substantial costs. Expert witness fees, for example, might involve $20,000 or more, even before the case is filed or just in very early stages.
  5. Willingness to expend substantial amounts of time to handle your case and not be overly distracted by other major responsibilities. (You cannot and should not expect, however, that your case will be the only one that an attorney works on).
  6. For qui tam cases, experience in complex cases--often that is gained in representing plaintiffs in employment discrimination, class action, personal injury, and consumer suits.
  7. Experience taking on large corporations--a "David versus Goliath" case.
  8. Experience with how the media and political interests can affect a case or claim.
  9. Experience with the Government as a party in litigation.
  10. Experience in federal courts or agencies or, if applicable, in the state courts if you have a state retaliation or whistleblower claim.
  11. Willingness to communicate with you regularly regarding the status of your case and to involve you, where appropriate, in the investigation of your case and its claims.
  12. Someone with whom you are relatively comfortable speaking with and whom you can trust or could come to trust to handle your case.

How important is finding the right lawyer for my case; can any lawyer handle it?

Your selection of competent attorneys to represent you is the most significant factor in the outcome of your case, beyond the actual facts you possess. No one single law firm or lawyer can offer perfection.

Like working with other professionals upon whom you depend (i.e. your doctor, dentist, plumber, painter, or auto mechanic), your lawsuit is going to be a much more pleasant experience if you trust and like your attorney.

Lawyers who communicate well and return necessary phone calls when promised may save you many sleepless nights.  A well qualified individual who is rude, egotistical, or unwilling or unable to explain important case developments to you, will make the entire litigation experience more stressful, but probably no more financially rewarding.

Should I look for a very large law firm to represent me?

Probably not. You do not need a firm with hundreds of lawyers, most of whom have never been to court and most of whom have never represented an individual plaintiff in any kind of litigation.  

Generally, large firms (50 or more lawyers) that are well known in your area or nationally will be defense-oriented firms. These firms are not those accustomed to representing individuals or organizations in whistleblower cases and will often have a policy against taking on such cases. Often, a number of big law firms in any one city will represent the largest employers and corporations.

Except for a few firms that regularly represent plaintiffs,  most large law firms do not normally handle cases on a contingent fee basis, where the plaintiff pays legal fees only if the case is successful.  Instead, corporate law firm clients pay their lawyers each month, at hourly rates of $500 or more, regardless of the outcome of the case. Most whistleblowers cannot afford these kinds of legal bills.

You will need to be extremely cautious in approaching any large firm or their lawyers to represent you or to help you find a lawyer, particularly in cities where the defendant is located or does business.  With large corporate law firms, it is very likely that at least one lawyer in the firm has previously represented--or will represent in the future--the very defendant that you want to sue.

Most lawyers do not seem to know the laws applying to my situation. Is this unusual?

No. Most lawyers are not familiar with the employment laws pertaining to whistleblowing.  Even fewer attorneys will have more than passing knowledge of the False Claims Act, federal whistleblower laws and procedures, or state whistleblower protections--other than the state in which they practice law.

Before making decisions based upon state or federal whistleblower laws, you should consult with an experienced employment/labor attorney, accustomed to representing plaintiffs, to inform yourself about the state laws that might apply to protect you in your circumstances.

An attorney knowledgeable in False Claims Act practice is also essential to making decisions which could affect your ability to bring a False Claims Act suit.

Is there someone who can help me in looking for a lawyer to represent me?

Yes. While only you can make the final decision, the nonprofit whistleblower support organizations GAP and POGO have listed on their websites a series of factors to consider in selecting an attorney.  We have summarized some of these in the answer to the question "What kinds of characteristics should a whistleblower look for in a prospective attorney?"  

TAF and NELA are two whistleblower-related organizations that have lists of attorneys or special directories of attorneys. These organizations'  websites are listed in the Helpful Links section of this website.

While we think that we are highly qualified to handle your case, particularly your False Claims Act case, as those are more national in scope than whistleblower cases, we encourage you to explore your options, at least on the internet, so as to feel comfortable with your ultimate decision.

My lawyer is suggesting that we find another law firm to assist in my False Claims Act case. Why?

In the area of False Claims Act cases, attorneys from different firms often join together to pool talent, money, and other resources, to represent a relator. You should not feel that you can only have a single lawyer.  You probably will need more than one lawyer—working together, with you, as one team.

Qui tam cases have potential for large recoveries.  However, they may also involve various legal proceedings, Government offices, and thousands of documents located in several cities or states.  Theses cases often take so many resources that it is common for several lawyers and law firms to band together to expand the team of attorneys working on the case and to share resources and costs. This has been one of the more successful ways to sustain a large case. Defendants, too, often have dozens of lawyers at their disposal in high stakes litigation.

Should I organize my information before I talk with a lawyer about my situation?

Yes.  The more organized your records and information, the more successful your meeting(s) will be with a lawyer and, in many instances, the more successful your whistleblowing will be.

Should documents be created to assist the lawyer in providing advice?

It is usually best not to create new documents yourself without consulting with a lawyer first.

Any documents that you compose yourself should be for the purpose of seeking legal advice and should be in the form of a memo to an attorney. Ideally, they will state something like this:
“Confidential Attorney Client Privileged and Work Product Document, Prepared by _______(fill in your name) on _______(fill in date) for the purpose of seeking legal advice and in anticipation of litigation.”

Be sure to maintain the confidentiality of any such documents that you do create by not sharing them with anyone but an attorney until you obtain legal advice about what to do with your information.
Again, it is best to seek and obtain legal advice before composing your own documents.


How should documents be organized for a lawyer?

The following are some suggestions to help you:

  1. Make sure that you have a safe, dry place to store your documents, kept separate from other papers and files.
  2. Keep track of when and where documents came from, especially when it is not apparent from just reading the document.
  3. Do not write directly on any documents or copies. Use “post it” notes instead or write your comments about the document in a separate memo to your lawyer.
  4. Background information about the potential defendant and yourself are documents that could help the lawyer. A printout of the company’s website, a copy of your resume and job description and those of your boss, an internal company phone book, and a map of the employer’s buildings, are all examples of background information helpful to a lawyer in evaluating your claims.
  5. Organize your documents by topic, categories, and by date before meeting with a lawyer, if at all possible. Use labels and file folders or, if you can do so without punching holes in text, a tabbed and subdivided notebook(s) .
  6. Categories for organizing your documents will vary with each case, but the following are often applicable:  
             a.  Background information about the defendant (company newsletters or annual reports to
                   shareholders, company website printouts, or a physician defendant’s curriculum vitae).
b.  Background information about the whistleblower (your resume, curriculum vitae, or copy of
      a recent job application, etc.)
c.  E-mails and correspondence (in date order, subdivided into appropriate categories, and then
      in date order within each category).
d.  Company or defendant documents about the fraud, divided by type of documents or divided
      by fraud scheme, if there are several different types of wrongdoing going on.
e.  Information about witnesses, including addresses, home phone numbers, and places of
      employment, particularly former employees and those more likely to cooperate with
      government investigators.


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