Choosing the Right Personal Injury Lawyer

Part three of three: Choosing the best lawyer for your accident or injury case.

To find out whether a lawyer is right for you, sit down with the lawyer to discuss your claim and possible ways of handling it. Bring copies of all the documents you have concerning your claim: police report, medical records and bills, income loss information, and all correspondence with the insurance company, including your demand letter if you have reached that stage.

Most personal injury lawyers do not charge anything for an initial consultation about possibly representing you and your claim.

But before you meet with anyone, find out whether you will be charged for an initial interview. If the lawyer wants to charge you just for discussing whether to take your case, go somewhere else.

Of course, a big subject to discuss in your initial interview is what the lawyer’s fee would be. That subject is covered separately in “Negotiating Reduced Personal Injury Lawyer Fees”. But there are a number of other important matters to discuss with a lawyer before making a decision.

After giving a lawyer a general idea of what your claim is about, there are a few basic things to find out from the lawyer at the outset of your first interview.

General Experience

Find out a little bit about the lawyer’s background and experience. If you’re interested in where the lawyer went to school, ask that— although it isn’t as important as experience in the real world. Some other questions might be:

  • How long has the lawyer been in practice?
  • Roughly what percentage of the lawyer’s practice involves personal injury cases? 
  • Does the lawyer most often represent plaintiffs (claimants) or defendants (businesses, insurance companies)? 
  • Does the lawyer have experience with the insurance company in your case, or even the particular adjuster?

Who Will Work on Your Case?

In almost every law practice, lawyers work together on cases. Often, less experienced attorneys and paralegals handle routine tasks. This can benefit you if work gets done more quickly than if it had waited for the attention of one of the office’s more experienced attorneys. And if you are paying by the hour, it is to your financial advantage not to have the more expensive senior lawyer handling routine paperwork.

Make sure, however, that important work on your case is not left to less experienced lawyers or staff. When first interviewing a lawyer, ask which lawyer in the office would have primary responsibility for your case and which lawyer you would be dealing with directly. If more than one lawyer would be working on your case, ask to meet and discuss your case with the other lawyers, too. And ask which specific parts of the case the primary lawyer would handle personally and which would be turned over to a paralegal.

Lines of Communication

How well you and a lawyer will be able to communicate with each other is an important aspect of choosing a lawyer. Does the lawyer listen to you? Is the lawyer willing to follow your wishes about how to approach the case? Does the lawyer explain things well? Do you get the sense that the lawyer will keep you informed and will truly listen to your input before making important decisions in the case?

A lawyer’s willingness to listen and ability to understand you may affect how much you can help the lawyer and whether you can control somewhat how the lawyer does the job. A lawyer’s willingness and ability to explain what is happening in your case will likewise affect your ability to make good decisions. And your ability to talk to one another may make the entire process much less stressful.

Your Settlement Goal

After you have discussed with the lawyer the facts of your case and the history of your negotiations with the insurance company, the lawyer may give you a general opinion of how much your case is worth and how difficult it may be to get the insurance company to pay something in that range. This is when you should discuss with the lawyer the different ways your case could be approached, and whether the lawyer would be willing to handle it in the way you prefer. These approaches include:

  • obtaining a settlement amount for you within a certain range and with as few costs and as little hassle as possible
  • obtaining any amount more than what the insurance company has already offered you, as soon as possible, or
  • obtaining as much as possible, no matter how long it takes.

Asking to approach a case in a certain way when you first hire the lawyer does not mean that you are stuck with that approach. As the case goes along, you are always free to ask the lawyer to change tack. You may get tired of the whole process and want the lawyer to wrap things up as soon as possible. Or, the cost of taking your case through the lawsuit process may begin to eat up too much of your potential compensation. On the other hand, as the case goes along it may seem to you and your lawyer that the odds have improved of obtaining a higher settlement than you originally anticipated, and so you are willing to have the lawyer fight longer and harder than you were initially.

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