Whether you've decided to go to court, and you want to hire a lawyer to handle your personal injury lawsuit, or you want help settling your personal injury claim (or preparing it for small claims court or arbitration) you don't want to hire just any lawyer. You want an experienced personal injury lawyer with whom you're comfortable.
In this article, we'll cover:
The practice of law has become highly specialized, and many lawyers know less about personal injury law than you will after a bit of reading through this site. So, your first task is to find a lawyer who has experience representing claimants (known as "plaintiffs") in personal injury cases. You may not want to be represented by someone who has primarily been a lawyer for insurance companies, even if they're experienced. Such a lawyer may be too accustomed to taking the insurance company's side, and might not fight hard enough for your claim. On the other hand, a seasoned plaintiff's lawyer who has some experience on the other side (representing personal injury defendants or insurance companies) can be a real asset.
Contact friends or coworkers who have been represented by a lawyer in their own personal injury claims. If they say good things about the experience, put that lawyer on your list of candidates. But don't make any decision about a lawyer solely on the basis of someone else's recommendation. Different people will have different responses to a lawyer's style and personality. Also, at any particular time a lawyer may have more or less energy or interest to devote to a new case. So don't make up your mind about hiring a lawyer until you've met with them, discussed your case, and decided you're comfortable entering a working relationship.
You may already know a lawyer, either personally or because the lawyer has represented you before in some legal matter. So, when you consider hiring a lawyer to work on your personal injury claim, it may seem obvious to hire this person you already know.
But this lawyer might have little or no experience representing plaintiffs in personal injury cases. If so, ask the lawyer to refer you to someone—either in that lawyer's office or elsewhere—who might be a good fit. Lawyers commonly refer cases to one another, and most lawyers have someone in their network who handles plaintiffs' personal injury cases. As with referrals from friends or coworkers, however, do not simply take another lawyer's referral as gospel.
Websites like AllLaw.com (and Nolo.com) don't just provide you with practical information on all aspects of a legal issue, they're also portals to getting help from a qualified attorney in your area. Use the "Chat" and "Case Evaluation" tools right on this page to tell us a little bit about your situation, and take your first step toward the best outcome for your personal injury case.
No matter how you initially connect with a candidate, it's best to sit down with the lawyer in person to discuss your claim. Bring copies of all the documents you have concerning your claim: police report, medical 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 don't charge for an initial consultation.
There are a few basic things to find out from the lawyer at the outset of your first interview.
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:
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. And if you're paying by the hour, it's to your financial advantage not to have the more expensive senior lawyer handling routine paperwork.
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.
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:
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.
This article was adapted from the book, How to Win Your Personal Injury Claim, by Attorney Joseph Matthews (Nolo). We highly recommend it, whether you handle your own claim or hire a lawyer.