Personal Injury FAQ: What should I look for when choosing a personal injury attorney?
I remember (not so long ago) when my wife was pregnant with our first child, how anxious we were about EVERYTHING, and how helpless I felt because I knew NOTHING about what to expect. This was never truer than when we left the hospital with our baby girl, where we had been surrounded by constant care and help, and arrived home, where suddenly we truly took steps into the great unknowns of parenthood. Of course we were never alone, and were comforted by the fact that we could turn to our family and friends for guidance.
In much the same way, if you are injured through the possible fault of another person, after the initial shock of the accident wears off, you are left with physical and emotional pain, as well as the difficulty and uncertainty that inevitably blankets you when trying to manage your life with lost wages, medical appointments and mounting bills, and dealing with insurance companies. Like when I took my first newborn home, you do not want be left alone to deal with your personal injury matters. Rather, you should seek the assistance of a personal injury or “PI” attorney to help you through such a difficult and sometimes overwhelming period.
Of course, you do not want just any attorney. You want the right attorney for you. When selecting a PI attorney, I suggest that you follow these five guidelines:
1. Get the name of an attorney.
Your search must start with finding the names of possible attorneys. If you have family or friends who are attorneys, ask them who they would recommend. Don’t be surprised or insulted if they are not willing to take you on as a client themselves. As an attorney, I want to help my family and friends with all of their legal needs. However, once you become the client of a family or friend, it can change the relationship you have with that person, so it is often times best if you and your family member or friend can avoid creating an attorney-client relationship. Even if your family members or friends are not attorneys, you should still ask them if they have anyone they would recommend. Just like when my wife and I were trying to choose a pediatrician, we started by asking our family and friends, because people inherently trust the advice and recommendations given by those to whom we are closest.
You can also contact local bar associations, which are local legal organizations to which most practicing attorneys in the community belong. The bar associations can put you in touch with attorneys who are experienced in the area of personal injury law.
The internet can also serve as a valuable tool to find possible attorneys. When you use the internet as a possible source, take care to include in your search the firm with which the attorney is associated, self-described practice areas, and any quality ratings that may be possessed by the attorney or his or her firm.
2. Initial consultation.
After you have the names of potential PI attorneys, your next step is to contact them and schedule an initial consultation. The initial consultation is critical, because like my wife and I discovered when visiting pediatric open houses, there is simply no substitute for meeting someone face-to-face to “size them up,” particularly when it involves turning over your trust to their care and confidence.
When you contact a PI attorney, be sure you ask if there is any charge associated with a consultation. Generally, PI attorneys do not charge anything for a consultation. I certainly do not, and recommend that if an attorney suggests a fee for consultation, you move to the next name on your list.
You should also plan on taking with you to the initial consultation any and all documents relating to your accident and injury, such as: a police or incident report; medical records and bills; documents showing any wages or pay that you have lost because of the injury; photographs depicting your injuries and/or the accident and scene; and any correspondence you may have received from anyone concerning the accident, including insurance companies.
3. Attorney that will accept your case on a contingency fee basis.
At the initial consultation, the PI attorney should inform you how he or she will be paid for their representation of you. Most PI attorneys accept representation on a contingency fee basis, which means they will recover a certain percentage (generally 33%) of what you receive from settlement or a trial verdict. If the PI attorney is not willing to accept your case on a contingency fee, I strongly recommend that you move to the next name on your list.
4. Knowledge and experience.
During your initial consultation, take the time to ask the attorney about his or her education and experience in handling personal injury cases. You want to obviously have an attorney that is qualified to represent you, as well as someone who can educate you on what type of potential claims you may have, what the process will entail for presenting your claim to an insurance company or filing a complaint in the appropriate court, and what type of potential value or recovery you may expect.
5. Your comfort level.
Finally, during the initial consultation, take the time to assess whether you have a comfort level with the attorney. Being comfortable sharing information with your attorney is extremely important for several reasons: (1) a PI case may take a long time to reach a resolution, so you will be interacting with this attorney for many months; (2) you need to always feel free to ask questions and expect answers; and (3) because PI cases involve your physical and mental health, your case will require discussion of many private details surrounding your health and life, and you need attorney with whom you can comfortably discuss such matters.
If you have been injured in an accident, take your attorney search seriously so that you can have your claim properly evaluated, have all your questions answered, find the attorney that is right for you, and have your case placed on the appropriate path so that you can look with hope toward health and financial recovery.
This article is for general informational purposes only, is not for the purpose of providing legal advice, and does not establish an attorney-client relationship. You should consult with an attorney to obtain advice as to your particular issue or circumstances.