Accidents have serious consequences. This goes beyond injuries and medical expenses; many accidents end up landing you in a lot of legal hassles. If you find yourself needing to open up a personal injury suit, you’re going to need a reliable and experienced attorney to help you. This is a specialized field of practice, so you shouldn’t just grab the first lawyer whose phone number you find. You need an attorney or firm that specializes in personal injury law, ideally with a history of handling cases like yours.
The Start Of The Hunt For Experienced Legal Help
As with any form of shopping, you want to compare your options before you make a final choice. How do you know which personal injury attorneys are worth examining closely, though? You need to start by building up a shortlist of firms and lawyers through referrals. You’re going to meet with each of these firms and discuss your claim in some detail. While you’re looking for a firm that meets your needs and can provide trustworthy service, bear in mind that attorneys are evaluating your case while you evaluate their abilities. You may find yourself turned away if your case doesn’t meet a given firm’s standards.
Where To Find Referrals
* Relatives, Friends, Coworkers
Anyone you know who has filed a personal injury claim of their own is worth talking to. Ask them about their legal representation and whether or not they felt their lawyers did good jobs. Any firm that gets a thumbs-up from past clients deserves a slot on your shortlist. Don’t give a personal recommendation too much weight when you’re comparing potential firms, though. You don’t want to make up your mind and commit to any firm until you’ve had that all-important face-to-face meeting and reviewed the details of your case.
* Legal Directories
The internet has made it easier than ever before to hunt up all of the suitable lawyers in your area for any type of claim. You can use directory sites like Findlaw, Avvo, and Nolo to get contact information and firm profiles for lots of different personal injury attorneys. Good directories confirm their lawyers’ basic credentials (licensure, bar membership) and present you with both hard and soft data on the lawyers’ practices. This information can range from a lawyer’s personal legal philosophy to facts about a firm’s fee structure and past cases.
* Professional Referrals
If you have a prior working relationship with a lawyer you trust, you definitely want to speak to him or her about your personal injury claim. The odds are good that they don’t specialize in this sort of work themselves, but they can probably point you towards a personal injury attorney that they trust. This can be an extremely strong endorsement, but as described above, you shouldn’t make any final decisions until you speak to a few different lawyers personally.
* Referral Services
Referral services are similar to directories but they are specifically designed to promote the firms and lawyers that they list. Referral services are usually operated by bar associations at the state or local level. The requirements imposed on firms before they can get onto a referral service vary widely from service to service. At one service, lawyers might have to have a verified history of practicing specific forms of law. Another service might list any firm that has proper credentials for practicing law. Study a service’s qualifications and screening processes carefully before you decide to trust it.
When you speak with a lawyer you’re considering hiring, you need to do everything you can to learn about them. In personal injury law, this initial interview is a two-way sharing of information. While you find out about the attorney, he or she is going to want to find out about your case. Bring along copies of all the documents that might apply to your claim. This includes medical bills, police reports, information about any damages your injury has caused (e.g. lost income due to inability to work), and anything you’ve received from insurance companies regarding your injury.
The vast majority of personal injury attorneys don’t charge anything for this initial consultation, but you shouldn’t assume this is the case. Before you set an appointment, verify that the firm offers free consultations. If you find that a lawyer is going to charge you for this initial interview, push them down to the bottom of your shortlist – if not off it entirely.
Interviewing: General Experience
Use these questions to get a feel for an injury attorney’s background:
- Are you actually speaking to the attorney who would handle your claim? It’s normal for multiple attorneys to work on one case within a firm. Verify that you’re talking to the lawyer who would accept responsibility for your case. If the lawyer says that responsibilities will be shared between two (or more) attorneys, ask to meet everyone involved.
- How long has the attorney (not the firm) been practicing law?
- How much of the attorney’s caseload is made up of personal injury work?
- Has the lawyer represented plaintiffs or defendants in past personal injury cases? Here you are looking for plaintiff experience rather than defendant experience. Fighting for the rights of plaintiffs will be more directly applicable to you own claim than defending insurance companies.
Interviewing: Potential Settlement
Once you’ve talked about the attorney’s qualifications and shared all the information you have about your case, you shouldn’t end the interview without talking about potential settlements. It is perfectly normal for an experienced attorney to be noncommittal about possible settlements during the earliest stages of a personal injury case. You don’t want someone who will guarantee you a certain settlement or someone who refuses to make any estimates; the ideal is a reasonable middle ground.
Make sure you and the attorney are on the same page regarding both the amount you’re seeking and the timeframe you have to work with. Examples of goals you might set at this point include:
- Aim for a fixed settlement amount while keeping the cost and hassle of the case to a minimum.
- Aim for a settlement larger than the insurer’s initial offer as quickly as possible.
- Aim for the maximum settlement regardless of the time or hassle involved.
If what you’ve learned about the firm and the way the lawyer speaks about your case make you feel comfortable with his or her experience and procedures, you’ve found an attorney that might be perfect for handling your personal injury claim.