By KRISTI TOUSIGNANT
The Daily Record of Baltimore
BALTIMORE (AP) — Injury lawyers in Maryland now have what may be the legal profession’s equivalent of a rap sheet.
Byron B. Warnken has created a website that collects data from the state’s circuit courts and compiles it into statistics on the number of cases a lawyer has filed, how many are open and closed, and case types.
Warnken, the son of University of Baltimore School of Law professor and attorney Byron L. Warnken, launched the site two months ago, but it is still a work in progress, he said.
The website, injurylawyerdatabase.com, collects data from the Maryland Judiciary Case Search website and only includes circuit court cases.
“At this point, we are quantifying something that was not quantifiable before,” he said.
The website launch followed the release of a book that provides statistics on workers’ compensation claims, including the award amounts for certain injuries and attorney results. That data for the book, called “The Comp Pinkbook,” was collected from the Maryland Workers’ Compensation Commission’s website.
The Injury Lawyer Database includes the statistics on workers’ compensation attorneys, but also includes a list of the most active injury lawyers and malpractice lawyers. It also has a list of commonly-sued hospitals and commonly-sued defendants.
If you click on a lawyer’s name on the website, a page comes up and lists all the cases that attorney has filed in circuit court, the number he or she has open and closed, and the year of the first listed case. Also on the page are pie charts divided by case types and attorney results. At the bottom of the page, there is a list of defendants the attorney has filed lawsuits against.
The website ranks attorneys on how active they are based on how many cases they have filed in circuit court.
This, said Andrew G. Slutkin, an injury attorney with Silverman, Thompson, Slutkin, White LLC, is not an accurate representation of a lawyer’s work. He said at least one-third of his firm’s work never goes to court and is resolved in pre-trial negotiations.
“I think it is relevant information to choosing a lawyer, but it doesn’t present the whole picture,” Slutkin said.
Sometimes these pre-trial negotiations, Slutkin said, can result in seven-figure settlements, a success that would not be reflected on the website.
“Because it’s such a strong case, it tends to be very, very large settlements,” Slutkin said. “It’s a neat place to go to see how many cases I have at one time, but doesn’t indicate how successful I am.”
Often, an attorney listed on a court filing is the senior attorney at a law firm and a lower-ranking attorney is actually working the case, Slutkin said.
Slutkin instead suggested the rankings should be more focused on a lawyer’s success rate rather than how active they are in circuit court.
“It doesn’t show you how successful a lawyer is in those cases,” he said. “You could have a lawyer that’s filed 30 or 50 malpractice cases. That would appear to be very successful based on the ranking, but the attorney could have lost half of them.”
Medical malpractice attorney Jay D. Miller of Miller Murtha & Psoras LLC in Lutherville said the busiest lawyer does not always make the best lawyer, but added that the top attorneys listed on the website are the ones he considers to be the top lawyers in the state.
“They are all best malpractice lawyers so I can’t criticize it,” Miller said. “These also happen to be top lawyers. I guess that’s a good thing. If a consumer would use that site, they couldn’t go wrong.”
Miller, who is listed as the second most active malpractice lawyer on the website, said he thought it gave potential clients a way to check a lawyer’s “batting average,” but questioned whether the ranking system would translate to other areas besides injury law.
“Do you want a lawyer who’s had three cases or do you want a lawyer who’s had 300 cases?” Miller said.
Warnken said he is aware that the picture he is providing is not comprehensive and that the website’s purpose is to simply provide data that was not available before.
The website and book are both the product of 27Legal LLC, which Warnken started early last year after he left his job as a financial adviser at Wells Fargo.
Originally, he had planned to collect data on executive compensation and U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission filings and compile it in a way for people to choose what stock to buy. Warnken, however, decided that the information would not be marketable enough to the general public.
“I found it incredibly compelling, but other people would not find it interesting,” Warnken said.
Warnken is also an attorney, though he does not practice, so he turned to legal records.
“I started to think about how public data might be used,” he said. “I thought that there was a complete lack of transparency. But not in any sort of underhanded or terrible way.”
He teamed up with a computer programmer he knows in Nashville, who used a program to “scrape,” or compile information from Casesearch.
“I just thought about, with the data out there, why not bring it to the forefront to give complete pictures of attorneys’ experience,” Warnken said.
The website functions under an ad-based business model. Anyone can look at the data and website for free, and Warnken plans to collect revenue through attorneys placing ads on the site.
“To me that’s the key,” Slutkin said. “I think this will make them money because lawyers are going to want to advertise on sites that can generate traffic.”
And the website has been attracting a lot of traffic, so far, though Warnken declined to specify how much.
“The nature of the subject matter makes it so that even if attorneys are not paying, I could make enough money to have business out of it,” Warnken said.
The feedback from attorneys has been mixed so far, Warnken said. Some attorneys have told him that they have found it to be an interesting collection of data, others feel it does not accurately represent them and the work they do.
“Basically, you are providing a window into an attorney’s career and work life that has not been provided before and I think that makes a lot of attorneys nervous,” Warnken said.
In the next six weeks, Warnken said he plans to post all civil circuit court records online and after that will assess his next steps. Options include adding criminal court records, district court records or federal court filings.
Eventually, he said, he would like to expand the site and one day hopes it will compile statistics in every state across the country.
“I think we can be far more substantial,” Warnken said. “I guess it would be a little ambitious to say the goal would be the place where people start their search for a lawyer.”
Information from: The Daily Record of Baltimore, http://www.mddailyrecord.com
(Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)