Once you find the right personal injury lawyer and work out your fee agreement, what happens next? Here's a primer for effectively working with your lawyer, to make sure you get the best result in your personal injury case.
As your personal injury case proceeds, questions will come up and decisions will need to be made. For example, you and your lawyer may need to decide about:
Each of these decisions will depend on your perspective and on how the case is going at the time. 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.
Below we'll spotlight some key strategic issues in a personal injury lawsuit. It's usually a good idea 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 the investment of cost and time in your case, and want to be consulted before major decisions are made.
With certain kinds of personal injury cases, it can be a big help for your lawyer to hire someone to help figure out and prove how the underlying accident happened, to find witnesses, or to dig up useful 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. You might want to 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 everyone involved in your case—your lawyer, the insurance adjuster for the at-fault party—handle your 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 a case status update from your lawyer for a while, 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—can be expected to take place, then follow up to make sure it does. A lawyer, like anyone else, does not like to be pestered. On the other hand, you have a right to ensure 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 personal injury case. As when deciding whether to accept an insurance adjuster’s offer when you're handling negotiations by yourself, the decision about when to accept a settlement offer depends solely on whether you (not your lawyer) 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 whether this is the best settlement you can reasonably hope to get.
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 settlement offer currently on the table.