You have found, chosen, and hired an attorney, you’ve worked out your fee agreement, now what happens? This article addresses the main issues you and your attorney will need to work out, and should serve as a primer for effectively working with a personal injury lawyer.
As your personal injury case proceeds, there will be questions that come up and decisions that need to be made. For example, you and your lawyer may need to decide about:
Each of these decisions will depend on your attitude and on how the case is going at the point the question comes up. And although you should participate in these decisions, you will depend a great deal on your lawyer’s advice, which is why it is so important to choose a lawyer who explains what is going on and who listens to what you have to say.
Discussed below are some of the most important issues in a lawsuit. We encourage you to continue to exercise some control over these decisions even if you’ve hired a lawyer to take over your case. Take a few minutes with your lawyer at the beginning of the case and explain that you don’t want to limit unnecessarily what the lawyer can do or to tell the lawyer how to do the job. But emphasize that you are concerned about controlling the cost and time of your case, and want to be consulted before major decisions are made. If the lawyer is not sympathetic to this request, perhaps you’d better interview some more lawyers.
Sometimes it can be useful for a lawyer to hire someone to help figure out and prove what happened in the accident, to find witnesses, or to dig up information about the defendant.
This person might be a private investigator or an expert in accident reconstruction. Your lawyer might also want to hire a doctor who specializes in the type of injuries you have sustained, to examine you or your medical records, and to give an expert opinion about the extent of your injuries or your future medical needs and costs.
These experts are not employees of a lawyer’s office, so their fees are extra expenses that will be subtracted from your final compensation in the case. And using experts can get very expensive very fast. Ask your lawyer to agree not to use any outside investigators or other outside services unless the lawyer first explains to you the need for such outside help and you agree to it.
You have a right to have your lawyer and the insurance company process your injury claim or lawsuit reasonably promptly. Some delay is an unavoidable part of the insurance claims business and an even more common part of the lawsuit game. But you may be able to keep delays to a minimum by regularly monitoring what your lawyer and the other side are doing and gently pressing to keep your case moving.
If you have not heard from your lawyer for a while concerning activity on your case, call and find out what is going on and ask when the next event—a response by the insurance company, a letter or document sent by your lawyer—is supposed to take place. Then follow up to make sure it occurs. A lawyer, like anyone else, does not like to be pestered. On the other hand, you have a right to know what is going on and to make sure that your case is being handled efficiently.
Be reasonable. Don’t call every couple of days and demand to know what has happened in the past 48 hours. But do check in regularly to make sure that something is happening and to get a rough schedule from the lawyer about when the next forward movement will occur.
The most important decision you and your lawyer are likely to make together is when to settle your case. As with deciding about whether to accept an insurance adjuster’s offer when handling negotiations by yourself, the decision about when to accept a settlement offer your lawyer has obtained depends solely on whether you are satisfied. You must balance what you think the case is worth against the effort and expense it might take to get more than has been offered, plus the likelihood of actually getting more. You also have to consider how quickly you need the money and how weary you are of the whole process. Of course, you will want and need your lawyer’s advice on this important decision.
That is part of what you have hired the lawyer to do. But the decision should not depend on what the lawyer wants—for example, to settle quickly because the lawyer is busy with other cases or no longer wants to put in work to try to raise the offer, or not to settle because the lawyer wants to go for a jackpot and is willing to take the risks with your time and money. The final decision must be yours. It should be made after full discussion with your lawyer about the possibilities and risks of going forward, measured against the offer of settlement currently on the table.