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:
- methods for finding the right personal injury lawyer, and
- tips on choosing the right lawyer to represent you.
Finding an Experienced Lawyer
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.
A Lawyer Might Not Want Your Case
Finding a lawyer you want to hire is one thing. But that lawyer also has to want your case. And a lawyer could have several reasons for rejecting you as a client.
Most personal injury lawyers work on a contingency fee basis. (See “Managing Lawyer Costs & Expenses in a Personal Injury Case“.) This arrangement means that the lawyer’s fee is a percentage of what you ultimately receive in compensation. And if the amount you are likely to receive is small, most lawyers will not take on the claim. That’s because a lawyer’s overhead—the cost of operating a law office—is too high to make small cases economically worthwhile.
However, even if your case is too small to have a lawyer take over the entire claim, it may still be possible to hire the lawyer on an hourly basis to give you advice on particular parts of your claim.
Even if your injuries are serious and your potential compensation is high, a lawyer might decline to take your case if the odds of winning full compensation are low. This may be because you were largely responsible for the accident, because it is too difficult to prove that someone else was at fault, or because the person responsible for the accident has little or no insurance coverage.
Finally, a lawyer might refuse to take your perfectly good case for the same reason that you might not want to hire a perfectly good lawyer. That is, the two of you just might not feel comfortable with each other. If your personality and the lawyer’s clash right away, the lawyer may simply decide that handling your claim is just not worth it.
Friends and Acquaintances
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.
Lawyers You Already Know
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 and Chat/Form Submissions
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.
Choosing the Right Lawyer
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:
- 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 insurance 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. 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.
Small Firm or Large Firm?
The size of a law firm does not have much to do with how well the office handles your case.
You may have the idea that a large law office will intimidate an insurance company into giving you a better settlement, but that’s rarely true. A small personal injury case can easily get lost in the shuffle at a big firm. Also, large law offices are in the habit of freely spending money on expenses that may use up much of your potential compensation.
Also, insurance companies know that large law offices often do not put as much time or concern into a typical personal injury case as do smaller law offices. Therefore, insurance adjusters dealing with a large office may make a lower personal injury settlement offer in the hope that the busy lawyer may recommend that the client take it. You are likely to receive more personal attention from a small law office, and many of the best personal injury lawyers choose to work in a law firm with only a few lawyers.
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.