These are the Top 10 Things You Need to Think About When Choosing a Personal injury Lawyer
It starts with a working definition. Cornell Law School offers, “An injury not to property, but to the body, mind, or emotions.” It covers any injury incurred from a slip and fall to a car accident to medical malpractice to a manufacturer’s liability.
Insurance rarely covers the financial and personal costs connected to a complex or egregious liability, so injured parties need legal representation by a personal injury lawyer.
- Watch out for those solicitation letters! If you receive one letter shortly after your injury, you are likely to receive more. Some lawyers follow up on police and accident reports. The letters suggest the solicitors are looking for business instead of securing referrals from satisfied clients and respected peers.
Such lawyers do attract business from their mailings, but it also suggests those clients haven’t done my research on the law firm and its performance record. The same thing goes for those hard hitting TV commercials. You have too much at stake not to check out as much as you can.
- Check out the credentials! All lawyers were not create equal. And, if they have attended hard-hitting quality law schools and passed the bar, that’s a start. But you want to dig a little deeper. For instance, lawyers must continue their education and personal development. The American Bar Association (ABA) has members dedicated to promoting best practices in the field of law. Of course, personal injury lawyers are only one legal practice, but membership is a sign of their professionalism.
The American Association for Justice (AAJ) is open to lawyers, paralegals and law school students focused on pursuing justice for the injured. And, personal injury lawyers with the National Board of Trial Advocacy (NBTA) Certification in Personal Injury Trial Law may narrow the field for you.
- Ask how long the attorney has been at it! Your first question should determine how long the lawyer has handled personal injury cases. Personal injury victims pay lawyers a fee contingent on their award. So, you are likely to benefit from the lawyer with more related experience.
While at it, you must know if they have actual court experience. Many personal injury or malpractice claims are settled during the process. So, you want to know how strong the lawyer is at negotiation. But, because the case can reach court, you need representation by someone strong in those special skills.
- Take a look around the office! Most personal injury lawyers provide a free consultation, so while you are there, you might get an impression how well this firm is prepared to represent you in terms of staffing and financial resources to see your case through a long process.
The more serious your injury and the more complex the case, the longer it will take to resolve the claim. If the lawyer’s compensation is contingent on the outcome, you need the confidence the firm has what it needs to stick with it.
- Determine what kind of business the lawyer does! Some law firms are “one-stop” conveniences with lawyers taking on all sorts of litigation including criminal law, immigration law, divorce cases, and more. There’s nothing wrong about that, but you want representation by the lawyers focused on personal injury litigation.
You want a lawyer specializing in your needs but not the one already spread thin. Paradoxically, you need the lawyer who can do the job, but if the lawyer’s reputation pulls in business, s/he may not give you the time you feel comfortable with.
- Be sure to understand the cost! Lawyers usually offer a “free consultation;” even a visit at home or in the hospital. Beyond that, you and other responsible caregivers should know what costs to expect. Depending on state regulations, the contingency fee is usually 33⅓ percent of the final judgment.
However, while they say there is no fee unless you win, there will be out-of-pocket “case expenses.” You may not pay a contingency fee if you lose, but the case did cost money. The lawyer pays expert witnesses, court reporters, physician records, and more. The client reimburses these expenses—win or lose. You might be expected to pay them up front, deduct them from the final award (in addition to the contingency fee), or pay them as you go along. But you need to know.
(Forbes also points out that awards for physical injuries are not taxable, but awards for emotional distress are.)
- The lawyer could refer your case! Lawyers may refer your case to another for many reasons. Your case may present an issue in which the lawyer lacks experience or that s/he feels a colleague might handle better. One might be better at auto accident injuries; another might be stronger in medical malpractice.
Conversely, some heavily-advertised firms are dedicated to referrals. Your interest as a client is just who your lawyer is, the qualifications and experience, fees, and so on.
- There must be trust! A client must be comfortable with the representation. Injured people are already stressed and have enough headaches ahead of them. They need an attorney with whom they can build a personal relationship. If the law firm, you must know exactly which lawyer will handle your case.
Amid the talk of top-dollar settlements and big payouts, they still need to feel trust in someone who has their back. You might look into the lawyer’s commitment to pro bono work and the firm’s community contribution, both of which suggest empathy and compassion.
- Confirm what others say! These days any service is subject to the publication of reviews, references, and testimonials. Social media test providers daily. You might start with the law firm’s website to see what clients have to say.
But you should continue that search into other review sites. The experience will tell you some review sites are more reliable than others. So, you might move on to those connected with legal practice. If anything raises questions, you might try to reach the reviewed in person.
- Shop and compare! Personal comfort, confidence, experience, and costs are real concerns. These issues create a checklist to comparison shop. If you feel there is time, you can visit any number of personal injury lawyers.
If you feel you have a promising and complicated case, you have the right to seek the best representation available. Lawyers are anxious to present interesting, challenging, and potentially lucrative cases. You may find them willing to negotiate the contingency fee and case expenses, It took a quality defense to win $4.69-billion from Johnson & Johnson recently. This lawsuit may be a rare one, but it did match the right injured party with the right law firm.
Need a personal injury attorney?
Few people are equipped to manage personal injury claims on their own. You might work out a minor, injury-free auto accident. But, if you or anyone else is injured, you may need someone experienced to prosecute or defend your claim. So, think about selecting your attorney now and carry his or her business card with you at all times.