Across the United States, there are more than 56,000 law firms with attorneys specializing in personal injury law. Depending on where you live, there may be dozens of firms in your area that you could choose. Large cities may have even more.
However, choosing the right personal injury lawyer is a critical choice. An experienced, professional attorney can be the difference between getting the settlement that you deserve or having the case decided against your favor. But how do you know whether or not you are choosing the right lawyer for the job? Asking the right questions during your initial meeting with any potential options is a good start.
Keep reading to learn a few questions you should ask a personal injury lawyer and why they are important, as well as some that are difficult to answer at the start of your case.
Do You Offer a Free Consult?
Be wary of attorneys seeking to charge you right from the start, before you are even a client. In most cases, this is a clear sign that you’ll be facing hidden fees and hefty charges going forward.
Instead, ask about a free consultation. This is typically a phone call or a short meeting. It is a chance for both sides to get to know each other. You’ll have an opportunity to ask the rest of the questions on this list. And the attorney will get a chance to learn about your case.
In some cases, they may decide that your case doesn’t fit within their specialty. Or they may feel that they otherwise aren’t the right lawyer for your case. You may also decide that they aren’t right for you. Either way, you won’t be out any money and will be free to move on to other options on your list.
How Long Have You Been Practicing Law?
Attending law school and studying for the bar exam both help attorneys develop the skills and knowledge necessary to take on cases. However, neither compares to the real-world experience of defending cases in court.
Before you choose to sign with a personal injury attorney, ask about how long they have been practicing law. Decades of experience is not a requirement. And a newer lawyer can still be successful and help you win your case. But having an experienced attorney on your side will not help increase your chances of a successful case. It can also help set your mind at ease during the stressful legal process.
Where are You Licensed?
Lawyers are required to be licensed in each state that they plan to practice in. In some cases, reciprocity will allow them to become licensed in a new state without taking another bar exam. However, in states without reciprocity, they will be required to take another exam.
Even attorneys working in areas where several states are within a short drive of one another, they will still be required to get licensed in each state if they want to cover cases there.
If you live in one of these border areas or are facing a court case in a state besides the one in which you live, make sure to ask whether any personal injury lawyers you are considering are licensed to practice in your state.
Who Will Handle My Case?
Your initial consultation with a law firm is a great chance to get a feel for the firm. You can begin to ask important questions like the ones on this list. But do not simply assume that the person you speak with during your consultation is the lawyer that will be representing your case.
Law firms can have anywhere from one or two attorneys to an entire team of lawyers working within them. While a strong, professional firm will have a team of lawyers that you can trust, it’s still important to ask who specifically will be handling your case in court. This is a good chance to make sure that you are making the right decision and getting an experienced attorney to fight for you in court.
As you face a stressful, confusing legal process, it can also help set your mind at ease to know that someone you have already met and are comfortable with is there to help.
Do You Have the Time to Devote to My Case?
A busy law firm is usually a sign of experience and a good repudiation. But if the firm’s attorneys are too busy juggling other cases, they may not have the time necessary to devote to your own.
Ask whether the attorney that you are considering has the time to take on your case. You might ask how many other cases he or she is handling at this time. You can also ask about their other office staff that will be on-hand to cover daily tasks like photocopies or requesting records, which helps free up more time for your attorney to handle the more complicated aspects of your case.
Have You Tried Similar Cases to Mine in the Past?
While it may not seem that way to most of us, taking a case to court is not a one-size-fits-all solution. From divorce proceedings to bankruptcy hearings, tax law, maritime law, criminal court, and personal injury law, each area of practice is unique. Trying each type of case in court requires unique and special knowledge and skills.
This also means that it's important to choose an attorney with experience trying cases like your own. Ask any potential candidates about their area of expertise, and whether they have previously handled cases like your own in court.
How Long Can I Expect it to Take to Resolve My Case?
When a personal injury claim is initially filed, it is impossible to know exactly how long it will take for proceedings to occur and a decision to be reached. The details surrounding your case, the court where your case will be presented, and other factors like holidays will all affect your timeline.
Your personal injury lawyer may attempt to change the timeline of your case as well. In most cases, your attorney will push back your court date to allow any injuries that you have suffered to heal. This is especially true if you have suffered debilitating or other serious injuries.
The person responsible for your accident and his or her attorney may also seek to push back the court date or delay the case from proceeding. Even after you have connected with a personal injury lawyer for your case and begun to file paperwork and gather evidence, the timeline for when you can expect your case to be resolved may change and may continue to change frequently.
What are Your Fees?
When it comes to choosing a personal injury lawyer, the first thing that most people want to know is what it's going to cost them. In fact this is true for hiring any kind of attorney. The reality is that there is never a cut-and-dry answer to that question.
Instead, legal fees will always vary from one case to the next. This is true of even very similar court cases.
Take for instance two car accidents. Both could involve one car running a red light and crashing into a second vehicle, causing injuries. Even if both victims sustain similar injuries, the long term cost of their care, and the other damages they sustain, such as lost wages, will vary.
These differences will affect the final settlement. A variety of other factors will as well, like which insurance companies are involved, whether the person responsible was found to be intoxicated or driving negligently, and even the judge that oversees the case.
While attorneys will typically charge by the hour for offering legal advice or providing other services, when it comes to personal injury cases, they instead charge a percentage of your final settlement.
You and your attorney will discuss this percentage ahead of time. When you have reached an agreement, both you and your personal injury lawyer will then sign a contingent agreement, which is a written contract required by law that acts to protect both you and your lawyer during the proceedings.
What is a Contingent Fee?
A contingent fee is a popular payment agreement for personal injury lawyers. This fee states that the client only pays their lawyer if they win their case.
If the case is decided against their favor, the client pays only attorney fees and any out-of-pocket expenses. The attorney fee covers the time that your lawyer has spent on your case. It also has some expenses built in that a lawyer spends while working your case, like rent for their office, secretarial services, and office supplies.
Out-of-pocket expenses include costs like:
- Printing charges for medical records.
- Photocopies of police records, witness statements, medical records, lost wage information from your employer, etc. Your lawyer will pay these costs up-front, but you will then pay a fee for each copy.
- If your personal injury lawyer needs to enlarge or copy photos to present as evidence for your case, you will be responsible for the fees.
- Any long-distance phone calls that your attorney must make while working your case
- Litigation costs if your case escalates to that point.
When you need to pay these fees will vary from one firm to the next. Some will require that you pay these fees as they are incurred during the course of your case. Or you may pay a fee upfront to cover these costs. These fees may seem to work against a contingent payment plan. But the law actually requires that these expenses be paid by the client, no matter the outcome of their case.
If the case is decided in the client’s favor, he or she will also pay the percentage of their settlement that they agreed upon with their lawyer prior to the start of the case.
A contingent fee serves a number of purposes. First, it sets clients’ minds at ease, knowing that their attorney will work hard for them and for their case, no matter how small it is or the challenges it faces
What is My Case Worth?
How much you will pay for a personal injury lawyer’s services isn’t the only common question that's tough to answer. Another is how much exactly a case is worth.
Much as the cost of hiring an attorney varies from one case to the next based on a variety of factors, there are many things that go into determining what a case is worth. And what a case is worth does not always guarantee how much you’ll receive in court. This is true even if the case is decided in your favor.
But once you begin working with a personal injury lawyer, he or she will help you determine what they feel that your case is worth. They'll come to their estimate based on evidence, their experience and knowledge, and the unique details of your case.
Factors that affect what your case is worth include:
- The amount that your medical bills have already reached. This includes everything from emergency services like an ambulance ride to any pain medications you are taking because of the accident.
- The cost of any ongoing medical bills you have. This includes costs like rehabilitation, medications, or follow-up appointments with your doctor.
- Any lost wages that you have suffered. Not only are lost wages considered, but the total cost of any vacation or sick time that you’ve had to use as well. It can also include insurance benefits that you were forced to cash in on will be considered as well.
- Expenses that your family suffered as a result of your injuries. This can include child care and money forfeited for having to miss things like sports practices or summer camps.
- Any permanent scarring or injuries that you have suffered and that you will continue to deal with for the rest of your life or the foreseeable future.
- Damages to your property you may have suffered.
- Laws related to your case and the circumstances surrounding it.
- Whether or not you could be considered to be at fault for some part of the accident or incident. While the other party may hold most of the blame, if there was something you could have done to prevent the accident, this could lower what your case is worth.
You have the final say in determining what you feel your case should be worth. However, your personal injury lawyer will use his or her skills and knowledge, as well as the circumstances of your case, to help you determine a total that is realistic. The more realistic your estimate, the more likely that you will receive that total when your case goes to court.
Choosing the Right Personal Injury Lawyer to Handle Your Case
Choosing the right personal injury lawyer can make all the difference when it comes to taking your case to court. But asking the right questions, including the ones on this list, can go a long way towards helping you to narrow your options.