A Five-Pronged Test for Hiring a Whistleblower Attorney

Alison Frankel's recent article on the SEC Whistleblower Program raises a question pertinent to all whistleblowers: How does the whistleblower choose legitimate representation? Though misleading ads abound, there are precautions whistleblowers can take when seeking legal representation.     

TAF suggests the following Five-Pronged Test:

  1. What is the name of the individual running the ad or who will be providing the service? 
    Honest men and women have real names, real biographies, and real street addresses.  If the ad or the web site does not have a real name or a real biography attached to it, move on immediately.  Be aware that what looks like a street address may, in fact, be a post-office drop box, and that what looks like an office phone number may be nothing more than the cell phone of a lawyer who normally does drunk driving cases.  Google names, street addresses, email addresses, and phone numbers. 
  2. Look for success and ask for specific documented examples of that firm’s success in returning money in a whistleblower case. 
    Too many law firms are putting up the success of others as if they won those cases.  That’s a lie, and if someone plays that game on you, hang up the phone and move on.  If firm says they have won whistleblower cases in the past, ask them to send you news stories and/or the settlement papers.  If they won’t send those, it means they can’t.  Move on.  In a whistleblower case, there are no “do overs.”  You probably have only one chance to  get it right, and your most important job is done right at the start – getting a lawyer that you can trust, that the government can trust, and who will avoid mistakes that could cost you millions of dollars and years of aggravation into the future.  You are looking for a square dealer; accept nothing less.
  3. Is this a law firm trying to masquerade as something else?   
    Some law firms are now trying to represent themselves as “national” advocacy organizations.  Don’t be fooled.  Remember that no happy marriage ever started with a lie made on the first date.
  4. Is the advertising lawyer nothing more than a broker?  
    Stay away from lawyers and others who have embraced a business model based on running ads and then referring cases on to others.  These law firms are not whistleblower or False Claims Act experts; they are fee-skimming outfits that will do little or nothing to help you build or win your whistleblower case.
  5. Ask the lawyer or law firm if they are members of Taxpayers Against Fraud Education Fund. 
    TAFEF has been around for more than 25 years and sits at the cross-roads of incentivized integrity programs such as the False Claims Act, and the IRS, SEC, and CFTC whistleblower programs.  If a lawyer is not a member of TAF, it generally means one of two things:  1) they are either not serious about whistleblower work, or; 2) they are a law firm that works both sides of the fence, both for and against whistleblowers.  If you are a whistleblower, do you want to suit up with a firm that works to undermine whistleblower law and cases?