Frequently Asked Questions - How do I Choose a Good Personal Injury Lawyer?
Choosing the right personal injury lawyer is not an easy decision and should not be taken lightly. All lawyers are not the same. In fact, hiring the right lawyer can be the difference between receiving a significant settlement amount (or verdict) versus receiving little to nothing at all. You will only have one shot for your case so you need to choose wisely.
There are many factors to consider before hiring a personal injury lawyer. First off, you want to hire a lawyer that specializes in that particular field. Generally, you don’t want an attorney that doesn’t specialize in personal injury law and handles a wide range of law areas. A “jack of all trades” but master of none is not what you want when hiring a personal injury lawyer. You want a lawyer well known by the local judges, insurance companies and defense bar. Reputation matters! Many insurance companies (and the attorneys that represent insurance companies) consider who you hired as your lawyer when determining how much to offer you in an out of court settlement. If your lawyer is new or inexperienced or is simply known not to ever go to trial, this can seriously hurt the value of your case. You want an aggressive attorney that is not afraid to turn down the “last best offer” and go to court, if necessary. While most cases do settle out of court without the need for a trial, you don’t want a lawyer that doesn’t ever go to court. The insurance companies know which lawyers always settle and the ones willing to go to court when needed. If your lawyer or law firm has the reputation of never willing to go to court, the insurance company will almost never offer as much money as to those lawyers who are unafraid of litigation.
Plus, while most cases are settled out of court without having to go to trial, what if your case ends up being one of that minority? Would you rather have an attorney familiar with the insurance company, the opposing lawyer and the judge or someone that has limited to no experience in court? Do you want a lawyer that has never (or rarely ever) had to pick a jury? Of course not.
Experience is extremely important for other reasons too. If your attorney doesn’t specialize in personal injury, they may not be up to speed on recent case law or important changes to personal injury law. Laws are always changing and you want someone that keeps up with those changes. You also want someone that has vast experience handling cases similar to yours. Your lawyer should be familiar with the doctors in your area and as stated above, the judges and the defense attorneys. The less familiar your lawyer is with the current laws or handling personal injury cases in general, the less likely they will provide the best advice and obtain the best recovery on your behalf.
You should always find out about an attorney’s knowledge, education and experience before hiring them. This can be done by checking a lawyer’s website or simply asking the attorney before signing a contract. Most experienced personal injury lawyers are more than willing to go over their credentials and results as it gives them a chance to “toot their own horn” without seeming arrogant or cocky. Don’t be afraid to ask them about their top recoveries and whether they ever go to trial to obtain a verdict. While many lawyers are reluctant to advertise their top verdicts or settlements since it may come across as distasteful or even misleading, a well seasoned lawyer specializing in personal injury will be more than happy to tell you about their best results when asked.
You don’t want to choose a lawyer based solely on television commercials or other advertisements. Just because your lawyer happens to be plastered on every bus in the city doesn’t necessarily make them better than anyone else. In this same regard, if you hire a large firm that does advertising, your case will likely be assigned to someone other than the one you saw on the advertisements. Find out about YOUR lawyer’s knowledge, education and experience.
Also, you will want to hire a lawyer that has the resources to front your costs and go to court if your case requires it. Almost all personal injury lawyers will promise to pay all costs unless a recovery is obtained. However, going to court can be extremely expensive and smaller firms may not have the resources to spend $20,000 or more to take your case to trial. Because of that, your lawyer could try to steer you towards settlement simply because they lack the resources and risk receiving nothing for their efforts, plus getting stuck with your costs. On the other hand, you may not want to hire a super large firm that treats you “like a number”. While you want a law firm with the resources to go to trial, you always want to feel like your case matters. A common complaint with hiring a large firm is that some clients feel they are lost in the shuffle and their case seems unimportant to their lawyer. Most good personal injury lawyers are extremely busy (this is a good thing!) and aren’t always available to speak to you directly. Accordingly, you want a lawyer with a diligent staff that will return your calls and answer general questions. However, your lawyer should always be willing to schedule a telephone or live conference upon request.
If you already hired a lawyer and are unhappy or dissatisfied with your current representation, you do have the right to fire your lawyer and retain new counsel. Before doing so, you should ensure this is really something you want to do. And, you should talk to a new lawyer about the possibility of taking over your case before firing your current lawyer. Many lawyers are not anxious to take over existing cases, particularly if the prospective client seems unreasonable or their current attorney has a good reputation in the personal injury community.. In most situations, the original attorney will seek a lien on any recovery and your new attorney will have to work out a fee arrangement with your original attorney to resolve it. This will have no effect on your proceeds, but rather it will come out of the fees recovered. The first attorney will also want to recover any costs expended on your behalf. Because most lawyers are reluctant to take over a personal injury case in which you are already represented, you should do your due diligence before hiring a lawyer in the first place.