Most people know that they need a lawyer after experiencing the devastating impacts of an accidental injury or death. Fewer people, however, have a strong sense of what to look for in a personal injury attorney. It is important for injured victims to carefully select a competent attorney to represent their best interests. A trustworthy and experienced attorney may increase a victim’s chances of recovering the compensation they deserve. In this blog post, we cover how to select the best personal injury lawyer for your circumstances.
Cost Should Not Present an Issue
Let’s start by getting a major concern out of the way. Lawyers who represent people injured by another’s wrongful conduct—that is, personal injury lawyers—get paid differently than most other attorneys. Business lawyers, criminal defense lawyers, and lawyers in other specialized areas, usually charge an hourly fee. Depending on the complexity of the case, legal fees and costs can quickly become significant.
Personal injury lawyers collect their fees differently. Reputable personal injury lawyers represent clients on what is known as a contingency fee basis. Think of it as something similar to a contractor building a house on spec. The lawyer typically fronts the majority of the cost of pursuing a case on behalf of a client. In return, the attorney receives a percentage (typically in the neighborhood of 33 percent) of any amount of money recovered. In other words, the lawyer only gets paid if the client gets paid.
However, potential clients should inquire whether the firm’s fee will be calculated before or after the deduction of court costs and fees.
Why represent clients on this basis? Two reasons:
- It gives injured people access to justice during a time of their lives when they are financially strained; and
- It aligns the client’s interests with the lawyer’s. The lawyer is incentivized to work as hard as possible for the best outcome because both the client and the lawyer will benefit.
When selecting a personal injury attorney, inquire whether they require an hourly fee or they offer their services on a contingency fee basis. If an attorney questions the strength of a personal injury claim, he or she may require an hourly fee. Inexperienced attorneys may also require an hourly fee. If they have only represented a handful of clients, they may not feel comfortable taking the risk of fronting the client’s fees and costs. Either way, an hourly fee may be a sign that the attorney is not right for you.
Finding a Personal Injury Attorney
Finding a personal injury lawyer is not difficult. Lawyers are everywhere you turn, advertising online, on highway billboards, and on TV. The trick is not locating a lawyer, but rather, choosing one who you can trust. To get started, some simple research can help narrow down a list of potential candidates.
To begin, do a Google search for “[YOUR TYPE OF ACCIDENT] injury attorney” in the area where you live. For example, if you got injured in a car accident in Seattle, search for a “car accident injury attorney Seattle.” If it was a construction site tragedy in Tacoma, search “construction accident injury lawyer Tacoma.”
This cursory search usually yields lots of results. Even if you live in a tiny town, Google will expand the search area for you. To limit your choices, take note of the results appearing on the first two pages of results. Now that you have an initial pool of candidates, you can begin narrowing the list further.
Get Specific About Your Accident AND Your Injury
Time to start narrowing. You should first eliminate lawyers who do not advertise experience representing clients who:
- Got injured in the same kind of accident or incident that injured you or your loved one; AND
- Sustained the same kind of injury that you or your loved one sustained.
For example, you may have suffered a spinal cord injury in a multi-vehicle truck accident on I-405. Strike any lawyer from your list who does not have experience with both truck accidents and spinal cord injuries. Why? Because how a person gets injured and what kind of injury the person sustained affect the complexity of a personal injury case. Who might be legally liable, and how much money the injured person needs to recover depends on the type of accident and injury.
In the truck accident example, you need a lawyer with experience confronting the complex factors involved in picking apart a multi-vehicle accident. When more than one vehicle is involved, it can be difficult to identify the root cause of the accident. Attorneys will likely be required to deal with the multiple layers of insurance coverage associated with commercial truck crashes. All injured victims should ensure their attorney has experience assessing medical factors to predict long-term medical costs.
Weigh Results, but Understand Their Limitations, Too
Lawyers, for understandable reasons, highlight their most eye-popping dollar-value results to attract clients. Take those results into consideration, but do not give them too much weight in the selection process. A lawyer who can point to a track record of success has a strong reputation that could serve you well. Reputable lawyers typically build relationships with large insurance company representatives after repeated negotiations.
Overall, defense lawyers and insurance companies take lawyers with big wins more seriously than lawyers who lack those bragging rights. Having a lawyer who has impressive results also gives you comfort that your lawyer knows how to win in and out of court. Having confidence in your legal team is always important.
Although past results have some bearing on your lawyer’s skill and experience, they do not guarantee an outcome in your case. Every personal injury claim is different. The fact that two lawyers recovered $1.5 million and $1.8 million for clients with similar injuries, does not necessarily reveal who is the better lawyer.
Geographic Convenience Helps
Having easy access to your lawyer can help to ensure your case proceeds smoothly. It makes meeting with your lawyer easier. It may lend some relief to know that you and your lawyer live in the same general area.
However, there are times when picking the lawyer nearest to you would be a mistake. The most important factor to consider is the lawyer’s type of experience and skill. Some accidents and injuries are so unique they require a specialized degree of knowledge. Oftentimes, attorneys with specialized experience may only be found in major metro areas, like Seattle. That is just a reality of the legal profession. Increased population density increases the opportunity for lawyers practicing in the area to gain specialized experience.
Also, it is equally important to inquire how frequently an attorney practices law in the court-system where you would file your personal injury lawsuit. Like any workplace, every courthouse has its own distinct personality and workflow. If your claim must be filed in a specific court, make sure to choose a lawyer who is familiar with that court.
Recommendations Matter, to an Extent
You might also consider recommendations from friends, family members, and colleagues who have had experience filing a personal injury claim. Likewise, lawyer review websites like Avvo.com rate lawyers similar to the way Yelp rates restaurants. There is certainly nothing wrong with considering these recommendations. We would, however, suggest you weigh reviews with caution.
Remember what matters most is your lawyer’s skill and experience, and every lawsuit is different. Someone else’s opinion of whether they had a good (or bad) working relationship with a lawyer is certainly relevant. However, without knowing all of the details of that person’s case and the personalities involved, it might not necessarily translate to your situation. In-person contact can help you determine whether the attorney is a good fit, which is why we recommend meeting with your top candidates.
Meeting With a Personal Injury Attorney
Following the steps above, you should narrow your list of potential personal injury lawyer candidates to three-to-five firms. If not, reduce your list by being more strict on each of the factors above, until you have a handful of candidates. Now, reach out to each candidate online or by phone to schedule an appointment. If you’ve followed the advice above, all of the lawyers on your list should offer a free consultation.
Prioritize Feel and Fit
At this stage, you should have a list of lawyers who meet the basic criteria. The candidates should have experience handling cases similar to yours with a track record that proves it. From a legal perspective, any of the candidates should handle your case. However, now, you need to decide something a little more subjective: which lawyer feels like the right fit for you.
Fighting insurance companies and large businesses for the compensation you deserve can get stressful for you and your lawyer. It helps to have someone you can imagine will relieve your stress when the process gets difficult. The right lawyer for you will depend on your personality. Some people want an aggressive pitbull-type lawyer. Others want an attorney who provides calm and steady guidance. Others may want a lawyer with an easy, compassionate demeanor.
Meeting with the lawyers in person allows you to determine whether their personality matches what you are looking for. Pay attention to how the lawyer interacts with you in the meeting, and also how the lawyer interacts with others. If you meet at the lawyer’s office, pay attention to how the lawyer and office staff work together and with their clients.
Is the space messy? Do phones ring without anyone answering? These are potential warning signs.
Does the staff warmly greet people when they walk through the door? Does the lawyer seem mentally present and focused on you? Pay attention to these details to help determine whether the team is a good fit for you.
Get the Lawyer’s First Impression of Your Case
Typically, an initial meeting with a lawyer lasts no more than an hour. There is only so much ground you and the lawyer will cover. The lawyer will spend part of the meeting asking you questions about your accident and injury. Answer as completely and honestly as possible. Everything you say to the lawyer is confidential. The more information you provide, the more accurate the attorney’s evaluation of your case will be.
At some point in the meeting, the lawyer will (or should) give you their initial impression of your case. Do not expect a full, detailed analysis. What you need is an answer to two simple questions. First, is this a case that the lawyer thinks could succeed? If so, is it a case the lawyer has an interest in taking? Obviously, you want a lawyer who thinks your case is winnable and who is interested in trying to win it for you.
Keep in mind, however, that, by nature, lawyers are a cautious group of professionals. A good lawyer will always tell you there are no guarantees. You want a lawyer who shows enthusiasm for your case and believes it is winnable. However, be wary of any lawyer who tells you they are certain your case will succeed. Ultimately, you want a lawyer who gives it to you straight, keeping your expectations realistic.
In short, you should look for an attorney who is cautiously confident in your case. Over-confidence and promises of guaranteed outcomes should be worrisome.
Make Your Selection
For most people, after meeting with a handful of lawyers, it becomes clear which firm can best serve their needs. Oftentimes, individuals will have a gut instinct about the lawyer that is the best fit for them.
Trust your gut. By following the initial research suggestions above, you will have targeted a group of lawyers who have the skill and experience necessary to best represent your interests. By meeting with the top candidates, you will have given yourself the opportunity to hear what the lawyer has to say about your case. Just as importantly, you will get a sense of whether your personalities and expectations match. Make your choice and let your attorney get to work.
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