Here’s What You Need to Know
When you suffer from injuries from an accident, finding a personal injury attorney is often a daunting task. Depending on the area you live in, you could find a listing of hundreds of attorneys. You need an attorney who will give your case personal attention and who is aggressive enough to fight insurance companies for the compensation you deserve. How do you know which one to pick?
You have to start your search somewhere. Word of mouth referrals from friends and relatives, testimonials on lawyer’s pages, checking the Better Business Bureau for complaints, or even checking your state’s bar association can give you information about an attorney. You can also check the firm’s social media pages for client comments.
If you do not find an attorney you like from a personal referral, you can research additional attorneys from television or online ads. Regardless of where you find the name, the research into creating a “shortlist” is the same. Your shortlist should contain three to five firms that seem like a good fit for you—on paper.
How to Create a Shortlist
The very first thing you need to look for is whether the attorney handles cases like yours. Not all personal injury attorneys handle all types of personal injury cases. For example, you might have been in a slip and fall accident. Your sister recommended an attorney. When you check the attorney’s page, you find that the firm handles only car accidents. The attorney does not have experience in handling slip and fall accidents.
Instead of wasting time researching that firm, cross it off your list and move on to the next attorney.
Once you find several attorneys who handle cases like yours, you need to find a way to eliminate all but three or four attorneys.
Questions you might ask yourself include:
- How accessible is the attorney?
- Is the attorney licensed in my state?
- What is the attorney’s education?
- Is the attorney board certified (this is unnecessary, but you can use this to choose between two or three)?
- How does the attorney communicate with clients?
- How often will the attorney work on my case?
- How many cases has the attorney settled?
- How many cases has the attorney litigated?
List deal-breakers at the top and questions that will help you choose between two or three attorneys at the bottom.
Once you narrow your list down to a shortlist of three or four attorneys, you can conduct additional research. One of the most important items you should know is whether other clients had issues with the attorney or if anyone lodged complaints against the attorney with the bar association.
Complaints About the Attorney
If you find that someone lodged an ethics or other complaint against the attorney or firm, delve deeper into the complaint. In some cases, a client who did not receive the expected outcome could file a bogus complaint. You need to know how the bar associations handled the complaint, including the outcome of the matter.
The Attorney’s Education and Training
Sometimes, firms have junior attorneys handling case evaluations. If these attorneys are just out of law school, they do not have the education or training to handle your case. Find out if you are meeting with the attorney who will be handling your case. As we mentioned, board certification in personal injury is not mandatory, but the attorney should have extensive experience handling cases like yours.
If another attorney or a paralegal is conducting the case evaluation, be sure to ask to meet the attorney who will handle your case. You will need to determine if your personality clashes with the attorney’s personality. You also need to ensure the attorney has the education and training to handle a case like yours. Bar associations require attorneys to take continuing education classes to keep up with the ever-changing laws, regulations, and cases in the legal field.
Once you narrow your list down to no more than four attorneys, it is time to schedule case evaluations. You can further narrow your list by looking at how much time an attorney will invest in your case for “free.”
You want an attorney with the resources to fight insurance companies. If an attorney does not offer a free case evaluation or does not take most personal injury cases on contingency, the firm most likely does not have the resources to fight big insurance. You can cross those who do not offer free case evaluations off your list.
Now it is time to schedule your free case evaluations. While you might find some of this information online, you will obtain better answers during the case evaluation. Keep in mind that during a case evaluation, you should be evaluating the attorney as much as they are evaluating your case.
How Easy Is It to Get in Touch With the Attorney?
If you call to schedule a case evaluation and the attorney does not respond in a timely fashion, you can bet the attorney will handle your case the same way. Before you waste time with someone who does not return a phone call for new business within 24 hours, cross that firm off your list.
Even though an attorney might list results on their webpage, you should ask more about their results. You are looking for two things: The number of cases settled or litigated and the amounts the attorney won in cases like yours.
The attorney you choose must present ample experience in settlement negotiations and litigation. While you might hope that your case settles, that does not always happen because insurance companies do not want to pay hefty settlements. If you do not believe the insurance company submitted a fair and reasonable offer, the attorney you choose needs plenty of litigation experience.
Ask the attorney how many cases they settled and litigated. You can also ask about their case results.
Communication and Time
Another question you should ask is how much time the attorney plans on spending on your case. If the attorney has more cases than their staff and other attorneys in the office can handle, it is easy to let something fall through the cracks. Additionally, you should ask the attorney how they handle communication. Attorneys that like to use various methods of communication, such as emails and texting, are more likely to update you on your case more often.
These methods are often quicker than a phone call and do not need a response unless you have additional questions. Not only do alternative methods of contact encourage an attorney to communicate more, but it also saves you money since billing for a text message is often less than a phone call.
You need an attorney who will keep you updated on your case without you having to call constantly. You also want an attorney who returns your phone calls within a reasonable amount of time, whether it is a quick text, email, or phone call, and does not leave you hanging while waiting for a response.
If you notice that the attorney cannot seem to focus on your case during your case evaluation or is always taking phone calls, you could run into a problem. Either the attorney does not have the resources to hire help, they are naturally disorganized, or they just do not care. Regardless, you do not want an attorney who cannot focus on your case.
The one exception is if the attorney “fits you in” during the firm’s lunch hour to meet with you and answers the phone while the staff is out. This tells you that the attorney is busy but thinks your case is important enough to find time between court hearings and meetings to find out more about your case.
The Personality Test
We mentioned before that a case evaluation is as much for you to evaluate the attorney as it is for them to evaluate your case. Part of your evaluation should involve how comfortable you feel with the attorney and their staff. If you are comfortable with the attorney and the receptionist, ask to meet the paralegal and other attorneys who might work on your case.
Your personalities should mesh. If not, you will always question the attorney’s advice. Additionally, an attorney that does not mesh with your personality could put off working on your case to avoid dealing with you, which makes your case take much longer. The attorney could also put less effort into getting a fair and reasonable settlement or do just enough to make a showing at a trial.
You can get a good read on an attorney by paying attention to how they react to your case. Does the attorney react positively to your case, or do their actions and verbiage tell you that they are thinking, “Ho hum, another case like this?”
If the attorney shows sincere interest in your case and your situation, it shows they care, which means that they will most likely keep your best interests in mind.
During your initial case evaluation, the attorney will also start gathering some of the facts of your case. You should be ready to explain what happened. So that you do not forget anything, create an outline explaining what happened and when.
For example, in a car accident case, you would:
- Explain what you were doing.
- How the other person hit you.
- What the other person was driving.
- Whether the person who hit you is a commercial driver.
- Whether the person who hit you is a rideshare driver or taxicab driver, and if possible, which company the person works for.
- What injuries you suffered.
- What happened after the accident, including information on the police report.
- Whether the emergency medical technicians attended to you at the scene.
- Whether you sought medical attention after the accident.
- How soon after the accident you went to the doctor or emergency room.
As you are relating what happened, the personal injury attorney will ask you several questions. You should also bring copies of any medical records you have. If you retain an attorney, they will have a head start on gathering the evidence they need to protect your rights and ensure that you get the compensation you deserve.
You might wonder if your injuries are worth retaining a personal injury attorney for. It depends on the extent of your injuries. An attorney can also help you make that determination. Even if you think your injuries are minor, you should still visit for a free case evaluation because some injuries could take several days to manifest. Other injuries, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, could take weeks or months to manifest.
After the Initial Case Evaluation
Make sure you take notes for each attorney you evaluate. Once you visit your second or third attorney, details about each firm could become confused in your mind—and you do not want to choose an attorney who does not meet your expectations because you confused them with another lawyer.
Once you finish conducting all of your initial case evaluations, compare your notes for each attorney. Eliminate those who have the least factors on your wish list—and you foresee having a personality conflict with your personality.
Hopefully, you narrowed your list down to one firm that you really like. Contact a personal injury attorney to schedule an initial free case evaluation or a second meeting to go over fees, costs, your contingency contract, and bring additional documents that will help the attorney with your case.