Personal injuries of any kind throw people off course. Whether they are from a car crash or a slip and fall, you can’t prepare for them. If you’re injured, you can incur expensive medical costs, lose wages from your job, and be forced to deal with tight-fisted insurance companies.
If you’ve suffered injuries due to an accident or someone else’s negligence, you should always consult with a qualified law firm that has proven success with personal injury cases.
But how can you find a respectable, knowledgeable and proven law firm who will fight for what you deserve? Here are some of the most important questions you can ask when researching legal representation.
1. Are you able to handle my case?
Good lawyers know their limits. They can only devote so much of their expertise, energy, and time to their work. The right lawyers believe in the people and causes they represent and don’t sign clients up when they know the case won’t receive the attention it deserves.
A one-person firm is more likely to have issues with time availability. This is why a larger, more established firm — with multiple lawyers, paralegals, record specialists (particularly those dealing with medical records), and other experienced staff — is ideal.
In any event, make certain your attorney has the time and energy to become familiar with your case and that they’re ready to fight for you.
2. Have you litigated a case like mine before?
Experience and expertise are all-important when involved with anything legal. You wouldn’t hire an electrician to fix your shower, and you wouldn’t want to hire a real estate attorney who dabbles in personal injury law to handle your car accident case.
It’s very important that your lawyer has years of experience of working on cases like yours.
Additionally, you’ll want to make sure your lawyer has a good success rate. While winning cases is not the only indicator which is important, a strong winning record can indicate they are a tough, dedicated, and knowledgeable professional who can prosecute your case.
3. What is your assessment of my case?
As the victim, it is very easy to assume–understandably–that your case is a slam-dunk, and that you deserve substantial financial compensation. But accidents are very different from one another (even similar incidents, like car crashes). That means sometimes the law itself, or the particulars of your case, may make a court case impossible (or perhaps very unlikely or difficult). This is why having an expert–who is also objective and unbiased–is very important. Your attorney will be able to tell you what your chances are, approximately how much your case is worth financially, and if your case should be pursued. This may be one of the most important questions you can ask an experienced attorney and help you avoid additional headaches and frustration.
4. In what areas of law do you specialize?
You want to select a lawyer who specializes primarily in personal injury law.
Bottom line, if your case is going to court, you need someone who is very familiar with the law. They also should know common defense tactics by insurance companies and employers, how to negotiate in ways specific to your needs, and how to navigate other complex litigation procedures.
5. What is your contingency fee?
Most personal injury lawyers work based on a contingency fee agreement. This means that you only pay legal fees if they’re able to obtain monetary compensation for your injury.
Contingency fees by high-quality attorneys are generally 40% of the settlement, but can sometimes be reduced in certain situations. Be sure to read your retainer documents thoroughly before hiring your attorney. And, be weary of law firms who advertise that they can do your case “on the cheap.” You generally get what you pay for.
6. What level of participation will I have?
Your lawyer is trying to defend you in a way you cannot do by yourself, and to do this effectively they will need to know you and your story.
Facts are one thing—the details of the incident, your medical history, documents from insurers and hospitals—but your lawyer should want to represent you, not just review records.
Additionally, you will need to consult with your attorney and their staff on various aspects of the case.
Some lawyers also handle cases differently based on their own personality. Some welcome (and even insist upon) a high level of involvement from clients. Others prefer to do much of the work themselves. Make certain you know exactly what your lawyer expects of you before committing.
7. Do I have to pay advanced costs if we lose?
Personal injury firms generally advance the costs of litigation. The common saying is “we only get paid if we win for you.”
Out-of-pocket costs that attorneys advance include filing fees, medical records retrieval fees, and expert witness costs. Many lawyers will stipulate that these additional costs are not your responsibility if the case is lost, but others may require you to cover these costs if the case is lost.
Always be sure to ask this question when seeking legal counsel and make sure you fully comprehend any agreements you are asked to sign.
8. Will my case go to trial, and if so, when?
Your lawyer should expect, and prepare for, all of their cases to go to trial. Settling out of court can make sense in many cases, but your lawyer should have the skills to take your case to trial, and win.
Your lawyer should also have a general time frame of how long it will take before your case is actually tried in court. Part of this requires knowing the local courthouse, but part of it also requires knowing the inner workings of the legal system in general.
9. How experienced are you with personal injury law?
This is another question that will help you check your lawyer’s experience level. A note of caution is in order: Years do not automatically indicate skill or ability.
Requesting attorney bio/background information can shine some light into their education, important cases they’ve succeeded on, and their concentration in specific practice areas. Most attorneys will have a page on their website highlighting their information and achievements.
10. Which attorney or staff member in the firm will be handling my case?
This is both important and potentially tricky. Larger firms have the benefit of having many attorneys and staff members, and this means the initial person with whom you’re speaking may not actually be the one handling your case, or who brings it to court. This may be a good thing because you get a team with a larger firm.
Additionally, because different lawyers specialize in different things, it is common for a case to pass through multiple hands over the course of its life. (For example, some attorneys may only directly deal with settlement negotiations, while another might work on other aspects.) Because of this, it’s important to know who is handling your case, when, and for what reason. It is also very important to know who will be your contact person each step of the way.
11. How long will resolution take?
Court cases are part of life, and life is notoriously unpredictable. That means no lawyer can give you a definite, irrevocable amount of time. But, an experienced lawyer will know the legal system and your type of case well enough that they can give you a general time frame.
Additionally, this may help you get an indirect idea of the lawyer’s experience. An attorney with thorough experience with this case type, will know the specifics and the legal system very well, and thus will have a much more informed idea of a time frame than someone who is still learning how both work.
It is important to remember that the timeline your attorney gives you may change significantly and that you’re pursuing this for a reason.
12. What do you need from me before and during my case?
This is simply an aspect of personal responsibility. Recall that your lawyer is hired to deal with the formal aspects of the case–understanding the law and how best to defend you. Your lawyer will also expect you to play a part in building a successful case. This means they will need various things from you.
For example, they will need ways to prove pain and suffering. They will need information on the money you have paid out of pocket for medical bills, and the wages you may have lost from being unable to work. They may need documentation of regular doctor visits and future treatment requirements.
Your attorney should be able to assist in retrieving medical records, police reports, and any other documents filed with the city/state.
You will need to have an open line of communication with your lawyer about what your responsibility is and what theirs is. Your attorney is there to help you, but in order to move the case along, your assistance may be required.
Stay the Course with an Experienced Attorney
Good lawyers can be hard to find. The stress of an injury and financial loss can be very hard to bear. Adding a bad or inexperienced lawyer to the mix will not help. Make sure to find the right lawyer who will represent you fairly, faithfully, and honestly. That will put you on solid ground during a very unstable time. You should also complete all medical treatment recommended by your doctors, because it will potentially impact the success of your case.