Perhaps you’ve seen some things or heard some things at your work, enough so that you’re considering the whistleblower’s path. You’re pretty sure you want a lawyer to help you rather than bring the case by yourself, considering all the forms and regulations you’d have to contend with. If you intend to blow the whistle, you want it to count 100 percent, and that, in your opinion, requires professional help.
Or—maybe you’re just curious about all this whistleblower stuff. If you happened across evidence, you’d want to know how to find a good lawyer, as you’re not the kind to go it alone. What would you need to know?
At The Whistleblower Lawyer, we want you to fully understand what being a whistleblower means, and what you would need to look for in a competent whistleblower attorney. The journey to find the right lawyer for you doesn’t have to be arduous—we’ve got suggestions to help you in your decision-making process. But before you choose an attorney, you need to consider a few factors related to blowing the whistle.
First Things First: Becoming a Whistleblower
Have you thought about why people become whistleblowers? Are you prepared to become one?
A whistleblower is a person who comes forward with information that uncovers wrongdoing. The wrongdoing can mean situations such as fraud against government health care programs (Medicaid, Medicare, TRICARE), IRS tax fraud, banking and financial industry fraud which would concern the SEC, defense contractor fraud, or any other number of activities that are illegal or unethical. Whistleblowers provide a public service by pointing toward these types of illegal activities; it is often the case that we all benefit from the courage of a whistleblower. In a way, becoming a whistleblower can be seen as turning into the ultimate public servant.
Rewards are offered to those who help uncover certain types of fraud. In these cases, a percentage of the recovered amount is given to the whistleblower for their role in the investigation. Whistleblowers also receive certain protections against retaliation.
There’s more that you need to know. It’s responsible to arm yourself with information before you proceed.
What do I need to bring to the table?
If you think you want to be a whistleblower, you need to have actionable, original, provable information related to the false claims that have been made. If you have read about the particular wrongdoing on the internet, it’s not original information and you can’t use such material as the basis for a whistleblower suit—unless you were the original source of the material on the internet. Evidence—information that provides names, dates, places, and situations—is what you need to pursue a qui tam suit. But just having evidence is not enough.
First, you need to have the courage of your convictions and the patience of a saint.
Government wheels turning within wheels can take a long time. Make sure you are in it for the long haul. You should also be ready for the possibility that you might lose your anonymity. While whistleblowers enjoy legal protections, things can happen that amount to others making mistakes that leave you vulnerable. Finally, do you have your own personal support system? While a good lawyer will be there for you much of the time, at 3 a.m., it’s nice to have a hand to hold.
Are you ready to move quickly?
There is a saying in whistleblowing: the first one to file is the relator. What this means is, only the first one to file regarding particular false claims can bring the suit. All others are shut out—it’s called the first-to-file bar. If you think you have solid evidence and you are ready for the challenges of a qui tam suit, then you should begin looking for a lawyer immediately.
Are you complicit in the wrongdoing or false claims you want to report?
We don’t mean to judge you with this question. Sometimes employees feel forced into going along with illegal activities because of threats, implied or otherwise, that place pressure them. But if you did participate in a fraud, it is crucial that you tell your lawyer what you did. Being part of the situation does not necessarily rule you out of receiving an award or of paying penalties, depending on the circumstances. And, if you did participate, it is even more important that you hire an experienced whistleblower attorney rather than go it alone.
You’ve asked yourself the questions above, and mulled over the issues: you’ve decided you want to blow the whistle. Now it’s time to think about what it means to choose the right lawyer.
What to Look for in a Whistleblower Attorney
Your next step is to find the right attorney for you. Make no mistake—the lawyer you hire really does matter. Here are some important aspects of your search that you should consider:
Is it a law firm, or only a referral service?
Some of the web sites or advertisements you may see might look like bona fide law firms, when in fact they are only referral services, which pass your information along to a law firm for a fee paid by the firm. Be certain you are dealing with an actual law firm. If no lawyers are listed on the web site, or if there is no physical address on the site (perhaps only a post office box number), you might be looking at a referral service. Dealing with a referral service is not recommended because you have no control over who you will be passed on to.
Know that whistleblowing cases call for specialized legal experience.
Whistleblower law is exceedingly complex; make sure you have knowledge on your side, and that the knowledge is in the area of whistleblowing law which applies to your case. For example, if you have information about Medicare fraud of defense contractor fraud, you want a lawyer experienced with such cases under the False Claims Act. If you have information about securities fraud, you need an attorney well-versed in SEC whistleblower claims.
Realize that location can play a part.
Whistleblower attorneys can represent cases all over the U.S. However, if your case is intensely local or regional, it can be to your advantage to engage a lawyer who knows the local area and who also has a good relationship with the local U.S. Attorney.
Ensure that the firm has both financial and personnel resources to see your case through to the end.
Whistleblower cases require resources, both monetary and human. Information needs to be checked, forms need to be filed, and consultants may need to be hired to bolster your case. Additionally, multiple lawyers may be crucial to bringing the case in a timely fashion—remember, there are time constraints. Only the first to file gets to bring the case. You need a firm with the means to bring the best case possible, as quickly as possible. Ask for information about resources from the firm, and if you have questions, you might want to do your own due diligence by double-checking some things with others or on the internet.
The attorney needs to know how best to convince the government to intervene in your case.
You need a lawyer with contacts, especially one with a good relationship with the U.S. Attorney’s office.
Does the attorney have a reputation for scrupulous honesty, and are there any conflicts of interest?
You want to be sure of certain things: one is that the lawyer’s word can be trusted. You will be partners in a long journey, so you must be able to believe what your attorney tells you. If you have found an experienced lawyer with a good reputation, make sure that you check whether they keep their word. You will need someone with good judgment whom you can trust.
Understand how the attorney gets paid.
Generally, whistleblower attorneys receive their fee only if the case is won; they do not ask for money up front nor bill you hourly. In fact, if you encounter a whistleblower firm that wants to bill you up front, you should look elsewhere. Make sure you are clear on how the firm does its business with whistleblowing clients.
Ask how you and the attorney will communicate.
You should feel comfortable talking with your lawyer. Set up some way to communicate at regular intervals that works both of you.
Ask if the lawyer has ever been sanctioned for, or accused of, attorney misconduct.
We understand this is a tricky question to ask, but wouldn’t you want to know if your surgeon had ever been found guilty of medical malpractice? It’s the same with your lawyer. You have a lot riding on your case. Find out.
This last aspect can be more of a personal fit question. Not every whistleblower wants their hand held, but a number of whistleblowers seek a lawyer who understands the problems that can arise in a whistleblower’s professional and personal lives. Be sure you have compassionate legal assistance that fits what you are looking for as well as stellar professional credentials and unquestionable honesty.
Becoming a whistleblower can be inspiring, but it also has its isolating moments when you might feel discouraged. Sometimes the road to justice is long, and the wait for legal wheels to turn can be difficult to bear. But, if you are convinced you are on the path that is right for you, we hope you will take our suggestions to heart when seeking the right whistleblower attorney. If you feel ready to take the necessary steps towards justice, and you are blowing the whistle because you want to make a difference, we can help you take those steps and support you on your journey.
Working with whistleblowers tirelessly to shed light on fraudulent practices.
If you think you have the facts needed to bring a whistleblower case, our experienced whistleblower attorneys can review your case and help you file the appropriate disclosure statement. Under some circumstances, the government will intervene, or join in your lawsuit.
Your chances of succeeding are greater if your whistleblower claim is substantive, clear, and to the point.
Because of this, meeting with a qualified whistleblower attorney can increase your chances of winning. Contact us today.