How Do Lawyers Decide to Take a Personal Injury Case?

A personal injury attorney’s decision to take a case may involve more than just consideration of its merits.

By , J.D. · Villanova University School of Law

Certain kinds of advertising might give you the impression that personal injury attorneys are desperate for new clients, but the truth is that most do not accept every single case that comes their way. There are a number of reasons why an attorney might decide against taking your case, and there may be steps you can take to make your case more attractive to a lawyer.

Why a Personal Injury Lawyer Might Refuse to Take Your Case

It's Too Late to Sue

All personal injury cases are subject to lawsuit-filing deadlines set by the statute of limitations. Subject to a few exceptions, if you try to sue after the statutory deadline has passed, your case will get thrown out, and the attorney might face sanctions from the court.

The Lawyer Is Looking for a Particular Type of Case

Personal injury is just one area of practice in the legal profession, and there are subsets, including:

If your case is outside the attorney's area of expertise, they may pass on representing you. And even if your case falls under the lawyer's expertise, the lawyer might represent only plaintiffs with a specific type of injury. For example, in a toxic tort case, there could be a long list of potential injuries that could result from exposure to a particular chemical, but the attorney might only take on cases where the plaintiff has suffered a specific type of cancer.

Your Case Will Be Hard to Win

Even if you have significant injuries and liability seems clear, a number of factors could derail your case, including:

The Attorney Does Not Have the Resources to Litigate You Case

Most personal injury lawsuits will require expenditure of at least a few thousand dollars for things like court filings, copying documents, hiring expert witnesses, paying stenographers for depositions, and postage. In a more complex personal injury lawsuit, costs of litigation can easily exceed five figures. Other times, the attorney has the money, but doesn't have the time. Maybe their caseload is too much or they just had an associate leave the firm.

The Attorney Has a Conflict of Interest

Lawyers must abide by certain ethical guidelines, including the avoidance of any conflict of interest. Let's say you slipped and fell inside a restaurant, but the attorney you want to hire previously represented that restaurant in a contract dispute. In this instance, the attorney will probably have to reject your case due to a conflict of interest.

Personal Reasons

As much as the initial consultation is a chance for you to interview your attorney, the attorney is also getting a sense of your situation and your motivations. For example, if it looks like you're suing for revenge, and the attorney feels that you're likely to reject a reasonable settlement offer solely because you insist on having your day in court, they might decline your case.

Potential Recovery Is Meager

If your damages and/or your potential recovery is too small, it may not be worth your attorney's time to take your case, no matter how likely you are to win. For example, the defendant may have no insurance, or very low policy limits, and little in the way of assets, so that even if you were go to court and win a big award, collecting on the judgment would be a lost cause.

What Can You Do to Make an Attorney More Likely to Take Your Case?

While you can't change the underlying facts of your case, you can sometimes take certain steps to make representation more desirable from the attorney's perspective.

Build Your Case

You can position your case for success by having a complete picture of the nature and extent of your injuries—an official diagnosis from your doctor, for example. In a car accident case, getting a copy of the police report can be a big help. It also helps to organize and gather any potential evidence, like your medical records, contact information of potential witnesses, and a timeline of notable events.

Manage Your Expectations

One of the biggest red flags for an attorney is a client who expects too much. This can make settling a case more difficult or lead to disappointment even after a successful win at trial.

Be reasonable in what you expect from your attorney too. Don't expect a daily call with a status report, and try not to lose your cool if the lawyer doesn't return your calls immediately. When something significant happens, the lawyer will let you know.

Be Honest

Litigation attorneys are master lie detectors. So if you're not telling them everything, or if you're lying about something, there's a good chance they'll know. Why does this matter? Because if they don't see you as credible, a judge or jury probably won't either. Your attorney also needs to trust you, as they will be making sworn statements to the court based on what you say. If they're constantly wondering if you're lying, they won't be able to represent you effectively.

See an Attorney ASAP

Generally speaking, it doesn't help to wait to see an attorney. It's one thing if you're waiting to receive a copy of some documents before you have a consultation. It's different if you're just procrastinating. If you wait, your attorney will wonder how serious your injuries really are, or how important this case is for you.

Let the Attorney Handle Your Case

This sounds obvious, but there are clients who think they know the law as well as their attorneys do, and they act accordingly. This is one of the biggest pet peeves for attorneys. Think of a driver relying on a vehicle navigation system in an unfamiliar area. You're like the driver, while your attorney is the navigation system. You're ultimately in control of the vehicle, but it's the navigation system that decides the best way to get there. You decided to bring a lawsuit and recover for your injuries, but it's time to let your attorney decide what court documents to file, what evidence to gather, and how to deal with the other side. That's what you hired them for, after all.

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