Choosing a personal injury lawyer is a big decision. Depending on your individual case and the circumstances surrounding it, you may have thousands of dollars or more on the line. Without the settlement that you are seeking, you could be left dealing with medical bills, property damage, and more on your own. This can be a financial blow that you could be left dealing with for the rest of your life.
But with so many lawyers out there, finding one that you feel can best represent your case can be a challenge. If you are also dealing with emotional and physical injuries, sorting through your options can suddenly feel overwhelming.
Luckily, there are a few ways to simplify the process and ensure that you are making the best choice for your case.
Take Care of Your Injuries First
Most of the situations that turn into personal injury cases are painful, scary, and confusing.
One moment you are driving down the road with your family or at work doing your job. Perhaps taking a walk through your neighborhood. Then, out of nowhere, another car runs a red light and t-bones your own vehicle. Scaffolding collapses in the factory you work in or you fall on a wet floor with no sign in the middle of your office. A dog runs out of your neighbor’s home and attacks you.
With no warning, you are suddenly faced with serious, painful injuries. You are rushed to the hospital in an ambulance. You have to miss work and pay for additional childcare for your kids while you are recovering. Your sustains damage or is totaled, leaving you with no way to get where you need to go.
On top of the pain and dealing with damages, you might also be faced with extreme emotional pain. Studies have found that as many as 67 percent of victims of motor vehicle accidents suffer from psychological distress, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, or other similar conditions.
Immediately after an accident, you might find yourself desperate to get help. Before you even leave the scene of the accident, you may consider calling for legal help, desperate to make sure that you are recognized as the victim and not accused of fault. Or desperate to make sure that you are not left dealing with what you know will be high medical bills, fees for an ambulance, and the cost to repair or replace your vehicle.
Before you call a personal injury lawyer, seek immediate medical attention for your injuries.
Don’t Wait to Get Help
The most important thing to do after any kind of accident is to get medical treatment. But as soon as you are finished in the hospital, don’t wait to get legal help. In fact, if you know that you will be in the hospital for more than a few hours, you might consider contacting an attorney before you are discharged.
The hours and days following any kind of accident are crucial. Insurance companies need to be contacted. Witness statements need to be taken. Evidence needs to be gathered before it has a chance to disappear. Photos need to be taken of your injuries, your vehicle, and other damage in order to be used as evidence for your case.
If you wait too long to get a lawyer to take on your case, they may miss the opportunity to gather all available evidence or other support.
In some cases, waiting to get an attorney might be unavoidable. For instance, you might initially think that you do not need a personal injury lawyer. It may not be until the insurance company begins denying your claims or the responsible party tries to pin the blame for the accident on you that you realize you need legal help.
An experienced attorney will still be able to help fight for your case, even if you hire them a long time after your accident. But the sooner you get professional help, the better the chances of winning your case.
Check-in Your Area
Once you have decided that you need to hire a personal injury lawyer, where do you start? With more than 1.3 million attorneys licensed and actively practicing in the United States today, finding the right one for your case can feel impossible. But it doesn’t have to be.
Start by narrowing your search to only the area around where the accident took place. Attorneys must be certified in each state in which they practice. This means that contacting a lawyer in a major city an hour or two away, but over the state line, might not be the right choice for your case. However, law firms operating near the border of two or more states may be certified to practice in each of the surrounding states.
Another reason to choose a personal injury attorney near your location is that he or she will be familiar with local courts. If your case does go to court, this familiarity with judges and other officials will be helpful.
Hiring an attorney is a big decision. You want to choose someone that you trust to handle your case, with a proven track record of success. There are plenty of ways to find the right lawyer. But one popular one is by word-of-mouth.
The market research giant, Nielsen, reports that more than 90 percent of consumers trust recommendations from their friends and family over any advertising. Asking around to see whether friends or family have had any good experiences working with a local attorney in recent years is a good idea. It is certainly better than shopping for an attorney using highway billboard advertisements. However, that does not mean that it is the best method for choosing an attorney.
To start, lawyers typically specialize in just a few practice areas. So your friend’s divorce lawyer won’t be the right choice for representing your personal injury case. Additionally, choosing an attorney is a personal decision. Getting the settlement that they wanted could cause an individual to recommend a lawyer that might not be the best choice. It is important to choose your attorney based on their experience level, success rate, and other factors rather than relying solely on recommendations.
Look for Experience
Law school teaches aspiring attorneys the ins and outs of the law, court procedures, and how to work with clients. But real-world experience in court is incredibly important.
When you are choosing an attorney, look for those that have been practicing for at least a few years, if not longer. The longer they have been practicing, the more cases they have seen. Each and every case is unique, but seeing more cases helps attorneys to be better prepared to handle the unexpected in and out of court.
Besides the number of years they have been practicing, the success rate is also an important factor to consider. A strong success rate in getting cases decided in their clients’ favor. This, alongside years of experience, will make it easier to trust your attorney from the start. And trusting him or her will go a long way towards taking some weight off of your shoulders while you’re dealing with any injuries or other fallout from your accident. It doesn’t hurt your chances of winning your case, either.
Schedule a Consultation
After you have narrowed your options for attorneys in your area, it is time to actually speak to any potential candidates. Most lawyers offer a free consultation for new clients. This may be a phone call or an in-person meeting. This is a chance for you to ask questions. It is also a chance for the attorney to decide whether they think they are a good match for your case.
If an attorney wants to charge you for an initial consultation, this could be a warning sign of high charges down the line as well.
Besides asking questions, use the consultation as a chance to decide whether you think that you would work well with a particular attorney.
Find Out Who will be Covering Your Case
Sometimes the person that you speak with during your consultation will not be the attorney covering your case. In some cases, you might speak to a clerk or other representative. He or she will answer questions about the firm, and help you set up an opportunity to speak with an attorney. Other times, you may speak to an attorney, but it may not be the one that you would be working with if you choose that firm.
In some cases, you may not work with a single attorney. Large law firms often have younger, newer attorneys perform everyday tasks, while more experienced lawyers take cases to court.
Asking who will cover your case will give you a chance to decide whether or not you are happy with the attorney that would be taking on your case. You can always ask to meet all lawyers who will be involved in your case ahead of time.
Ask the Right Questions
A consultation call or meeting is a great chance to get a first impression of any potential attorneys you are considering working with. But it is more than just a casual chat. Instead, this is your opportunity to find out more about the law firm and attorney.
During your consultation with a potential lawyer, you will have a chance to ask any questions you have. It is a good idea to prepare these questions ahead of time so that you don’t forget any important ones that could affect your final decision.
A few questions that you’ll want to ask include:
- What percentage of the cases that you represent are personal injury cases? Attorneys may take cases in more than one practice area. These are typically closely related. But knowing whether personal injury cases are an attorney’s primary focus will help ensure that he or she has the experience that you are looking for.
- Have you handled a case like mine in the past? It helps to know that your attorney is familiar with cases like your own. If not, finding a lawyer that is might help increase your chances of winning your case.
- Do cases like mine usually settle out of court? Settling out of court will help you get your settlement faster, and without the added stress of going to court. But this is not always a benefit. Sometimes settling out of court means a lower settlement. Going to court can be worth it if it means getting the settlement you deserve.
- How often will I hear updates related to my case? The last thing you want to do is to be left having to call your attorney constantly about updates and involvements in your case. Instead, ask whether or not you will receive a call when there has been a change or movement in your case.
Ongoing questions to ask after your initial consultation:
- Can I speak directly to the attorney handling my case? If an attorney is too busy to speak to you directly about your case, you may be left speaking with clerks and other lawyers at the firm about your case. Smaller updates or questions can be answered by staff. But it can set your mind at ease and prevent any confusion if you are able to speak to your attorney when you need to.
- Do you see any potential difficulties with my case? Asking this question can be tricky. After all, you don’t want to hear that your case is laden with potential problems. But you also want your attorney to be honest with you. Listen to the lawyer’s concerns, then ask how he or she would handle them to learn whether or not they are experienced with cases like yours.
Finding the Right Attorney for Your Case
Every personal injury case is unique. This means that there is never a one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to choosing an attorney to represent your case.
Instead, it’s important to do your research. Use a consultation as an opportunity to ask important questions about your case and the attorney’s experience. Even if an attorney seems perfect on paper, trust your gut. The last thing that you want to do is trust your future to someone that you do not trust.