Picking an Attorney – Part Uno (1)

This is how it felt to pick an Italian attorney

Before I left the Embassy in Rome, the officers gave me a print out of a list of lawyers in Italy. Per Italian law, I had to hire an Italian attorney (living in Italy) to represent me if I desired any information on my case and to have any say in it. The Embassy cannot offer legal advice. And when I asked, “How am I supposed to figure out who I should hire?” I wasn’t offered much in response. I understand it protects the Embassy from becoming embroiled in a variety of legal issues, but as the victim, I would have liked a suggested resource where someone would be able to guide me on exactly what constitutes a good lawyer for a case such as mine. Actually, I wanted to know:

  • Are there attorneys who are sexual assault specialists?
  • Is it important to have my lawyer practice in the same city that the crime happened?
  • Are Italian lawyers generally more or less expensive than American lawyers?
  • Should I fly to Italy to interview them?
  • How will I know if they are doing what I need them to, and not just taking my money?

Here’s the part that’s not so great to tell you:  I still have no idea what the truly correct answers are to many of these questions. But someday soon, I hope to know them. I have a few ideas about people I’d like to speak to about this, so I will circle back for a future post. But let me tell you what I did do:

First, I perused the web sites of various organizations dedicated to assisting victims of sexual assault. But all of them catered to people who have been assaulted domestically. Legal advice was tailored to victims filing reports in the US and stats on conviction for the crime stateside. Also, these kinds of organizations, to protect themselves, will not offer legal advice.  I could find no information on other women who had or were in the process of pursuing charges against an overseas attacker. The search was eye-opening and worrisome. I realized I’d have to “put my thinking cap on” to see who or what I could use to help guide me.

Fortunately,  I went back to the colleague who had diplomatic contacts, asked for help and was able to speak with one of our Department of Justice reps with first-hand knowledge of Italy. He recommended, if I could afford it, hiring Alberto Biffani.  Biffani is a top defense attorney but I was told he might consider taking on my case because of his familiarity with representing Americans at trial. He also told me to have hope but understand that  the wheels of Italian justice turn ever so slowly and my case “could take years.”

Years. That word was sobering. Was I prepared to invest years of my life in this process? Obviously, the answer was YES. It was YES because until the time of the attack I had worked 31 years to create a life for myself, and in one night, at Marco’s slovenly hands,  that was almost taken from me and my family. Still, a big concern I had at this time was making sure I was weighing my interest in making Marco accountable vs. making sure I did not bankrupt myself in the process.

I worked through some estimates and established the limits of what I was willing and able to spend. And after some initial inquiries, I realized I could not afford Biffani, but another coworker who handled business in Italy at one time,  made a recommendation of a firm based in Milan. That was good enough for me. A recommendation of any kind provided some solace in a largely blind process for me. But I still had to figure out what the terms of hire entailed…See you in Choosing an Italian Attorney – Part 2.

QUOTE: “The way I see it. If you want the rainbow, you gotta put up with the rain.” – Dolly Parton (Women’s Wit and Wisdom; Runner’s Press)

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