A personal injury attorney is someone who specializes in cases where someone is injured, and where they can assist the injured party in navigating their rights to fair compensation for those injuries.
If you have suffered a serious injury due to another’s negligence, it is natural that you feel that someone else should pay for it—the problem is, you don’t know where to start in order to hold that person responsible. You want to hire a personal injury attorney who will know your options and handle the legal process for you. But who do you hire?
The United States is full of personal injury law firms all vying for the business of injured accident victims. Some firms promote themselves heavily, while others quietly rely on referrals and word-of-mouth to get clients. An internet search will return hundreds of thousands of results at the very least. So how do you choose the best available personal injury law firm for your case? Below we’ve given three overarching parts to how to search, all with their own individual steps: Research Potential Candidates, Screen Your Candidates, and lastly Hire the Best Personal Injury Attorney For You.
Part 1 – RESEARCH POTENTIAL CANDIDATES
Step 1 – Understand What Your Case Entails
To choose the best personal injury lawyer for you, understand the basics of why you need a lawyer in the first place. Different lawyers focus on different areas of law, and if you’ve been injured due to another’s negligence your claim is in the personal injury arena. You wouldn’t hire a business attorney to defend you in a criminal case. Similarly, you don’t want to simply hire any family member or friend with a law license unless that person has the necessary personal injury experience. Many people make the mistake of hiring someone that they know, or someone that a friend or family member might know, even if they aren’t the right attorney for the job. The best personal injury lawyer for an injury is case is an injury lawyer – plain and simple. However, not all personal injury attorneys may be the best lawyer for your case. Hiring the best personal injury lawyer is a bit more complex than that.
The type of accident forms a significant variable in personal injury cases. You wouldn’t want to hire a lawyer who only handles car accident cases if you suffered an injury in a slip and fall at Walmart. Handling a car insurance claim is VERY different than going up against corporate giants such as Walmart and their insurers.
It’s also important to consider a lawyer’s experience with your type and the severity of your injury. Some personal injury firms prefer to take hundreds of cases involving relatively minor injuries because they do not have the understanding of medical diagnoses and treatments involved in severe or catastrophic injuries. If you suffered a severe or catastrophic injury, make sure to inquire with your lawyer on if they have experience handling cases such as yours.
Even if someone practices in personal injury law, they may not have the experience and resources to handle a wide variety of personal injury claims, from a typical car accident up through a catastrophic 18 wheeler case, or a serious injury slip and fall claim. Some larger personal injury law firms have both the capacity and skills to handle a large variety of these types of cases, but you need to make sure you research such a firm before you hire them. The upside of hiring a large firm is that you have greater resources and “firepower” behind your claim. Be careful though, and make sure that such a firm doesn’t have a reputation for treating their clients “like a number.” Sometimes your best bet is to hire a large law firm, but one that offers high levels of individual service. This way, you get the best of both worlds – greater resources behind your case, and personal attention from the team.
Finally, understand that there are different ways to seek compensation in personal injury cases. Insurance companies may offer to pay some claims, while others may require going to court. You want a lawyer with experience in handling claims with many different insurance companies, as well as litigation experience in your type of case and the injuries that you need to file a lawsuit on—one who is not shy when it comes to taking on corporate adversaries and big insurance companies, and one who knows all of the negotiating tactics needed to successfully resolve a claim.
Step 2 – Know What to Look for in a Lawyer
A plethora of law firms handle personal injury cases, so consider the following factors that separate the best personal injury lawyers from the rest of the pack:
Years of experience – It’s just a fact that newer lawyers do not have as much experience and may not know as many “insider secrets” as lawyers who have practiced personal injury law for decades. A newer lawyer who works at a firm that provides the support and training of highly experienced attorneys should, however, be okay.
Reputation – Lawyers who are respected in the community and who have a positive reputation will often prove better than attorneys who have garnered less-than-stellar reputations. A positive reputation will often mean a dependable lawyer who will commit to your case. In today’s “age of the internet,” there is no reason not to do your research!
Disciplinary record – Lawyers who miss deadlines, do not keep clients informed, or otherwise act unethically may find ethics complaints filed against them with their state bar or licensing body. Utilizing the state bar or licensing body’s website, look for any complaints, suspensions, or disbarments on the attorneys you are investigating.
Availability – If your injuries prevent you from coming to an attorney’s office, see if the attorney will visit you at your home, or in the hospital. Look for a firm that has team members available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. These are sure signs of dedication on the part of the firm to its clients as well as a good “infrastructure” of operations.
Winning results – It doesn’t matter how many cases a lawyer has handled if the lawyer doesn’t regularly achieve good results for clients! Pay attention to reviews from previous clients regarding past case results—while it’s not a guarantee, it may provide a good indication of what a particular lawyer might achieve for you.
Step 3 – View Testimonials, Read Reviews
Want to find the best personal injury attorney for your case? Read the reviews! What is a better way to learn about the services of a lawyer than from the words of clients? Clients are not required to write testimonials for their attorneys and they often choose to do so because they appreciated the help they received. Reading through testimonials, or even watching testimonial videos can also give you a better idea of the experience that you may have with that lawyer or law firm.
Do you want a personal injury attorney who is all-business? The testimonials may state they were focused and efficient.
Do you want personalized and dedicated attention? Many clients write about how their personal injury lawyer made them feel throughout the process.
Taking the time to read a lawyer’s testimonials from former clients can give you a good or bad feeling about how they may be able to help you.
Likewise, make sure to read online reviews. Reading reviews of former clients may sometimes be one of the best ways to anticipate what your experience may be like.
Don’t let a few bad reviews turn you off of a good lawyer. Look at the substance of the review: Did the reviewer seem like someone with an axe to grind, unreasonable expectations, or even a disgruntled employee or a competitor posting a fake review? (This happens more than you would think.) Make sure to see if the law firm responds to reviews as they are posted. If so, what do you think of the response? Do they seem like they care about the opinions of their clients?
Part 2 – Screen YOUR CANDIDATES
Step 1 – The Questions to Ask
After talking to friends and family for referrals, conducting a Google search, and using legal web directories to find different attorneys in your area, carefully research each option and narrow your list down to a few top candidates. Contact these attorneys and discuss your situation with their team, making sure to ask any questions you have about the lawyer, their team, and your case in particular.
You should prepare the questions you want to ask ahead of time, as you don’t want to get off track and forget any of them during the conversation. You’ll want to discuss what happened to you and how the law firm is prepared to help you. Some common questions for such a meeting may include:
Have you handled a case like mine before? If so, did you succeed?
Do you focus on one area of law or handle many types of cases?
How long do I have to take legal action?
How long does a case like mine usually take to resolve? Is there a range?
How will my case be assigned, and who will I be working with?
How quickly does your office return calls or emails to keep me up to date about the status of my case?
What is the fee arrangement for handling this type of case?
Do you think I have a good chance at a successful case?
To provide the best possible answers to your questions, give the lawyer’s team as much information about your case as possible. It helps if you can gather information and documentation before the discussion so you can give specifics about your accident and injuries. If possible, you should have important documents and information available. Documents and information such as medical records, information about witnesses to the accident, photos you took of the accident scene, police reports, and other important data can be helpful to making the conversation as productive as possible.
Taking the time to discuss your case and your concerns with a law firm >can give you a feeling for whether or not they will make a good fit with you. During the conversation, if the representative of the law firm talks fast, skips over important issues, or tries to rush you off the phone, that may signal what you can expect throughout your case. On the other hand, a representative who takes the time to ensure you understand what’s going on, carefully explains your rights and options, shows empathy and patience, and treats you like a real person can leave you more confident that you’ll receive responsive, personalized representation during your case.
Selecting the best personal injury lawyer is a personal choice—and also a very important choice. Make certain that your initial consultations are completely free and that you’re under no obligation to hire the lawyer or firm. Make sure the legal team has taken the time to answer your questions and evaluate your potential claim. Don’t let anyone waste your time by simply telling you what you want to hear—look for an honest assessment of your case.
Step 2 – Understand the Cost
One of the biggest hesitations injured accident victims may have about hiring a lawyer is the potential cost. After all, you’ve heard about law firms charging hundreds of dollars per hour or even $100 for a short phone call! You don’t want to worry about money every time you pick up the phone with a question for your attorney. Instead, you need to find a lawyer who meets your needs with a fee structure that you’re comfortable with.
Some lawyers fee arrangements that can be confusing, and you should always feel free to keep asking questions until you fully understand what the lawyer expects of you financially. You need a lawyer whose fee arrangement fits in with your financial situation in the wake of an injury—not to make things more stressful!
If you are tight on money, and looking for the most cost-effective way to hire an attorney, look for a firm that takes cases on a contingency fee basis. A contingency fee agreement means you do not pay anything unless the firm succeeds in getting compensation for you. Under a contingency fee agreement, all of the work the attorney does to prepare and process your insurance claim is free. Pursuing a lawsuit is free. You will pay absolutely nothing unless you have a successful resolution.
When you do receive compensation, part of your payment will cover your attorney’s fees and costs. Your contingency fee agreement should spell out in writing how much of your payment will go to pay your lawyer—and you should always feel comfortable with that amount. At no time should you need to pay anything out of pocket or come up with money up front.
Contingency fee arrangements benefit everyone in the situation. You don’t have to worry about affording an attorney. You can pursue an injury claim, even if you don’t have the money to put toward it. In addition, your attorney only gets paid if you do, so your interests align with your attorney’s. This also marks a sign of your attorney’s confidence in your case—attorneys are unlikely to take bad cases on contingency because there’s nothing in it for them.
Part 3 – HIRE THE BEST PERSONAL INJURY ATTORNEY FOR YOU
Step 1 – Follow Up, If Needed
Imagine that you really enjoy your conversation with the first law firm and feel comfortable with their credentials, experience, and the overall demeanor of their staff. If you are comfortable and confident that they are the right match for you, and they have answered all your questions and addressed all your concerns, feel free to move forward with confidence and hire them. On the other hand, you may have lingering questions or concerns. In such a situation, it may be best to ask to speak to a supervisor, or directly to one of the attorneys on the team. If you do not move forward to hire the law firm after that first conversation, you should keep a notebook handy, and write down any questions or concerns that come up so you can have a productive discussion when you follow up with them later.
Even if you don’t have a perfect experience on the very first conversation, remember that discussions can get off track, and legal professionals – just like anyone else – may not give you every detail or answer every question. That doesn’t mean that they don’t care, or aren’t knowledgeable, it may have simply been an oversight. Ultimately, if you feel a strong connection with a law firm, either after your first connection or your second – trust your research, and trust your instincts, and move forward with representation.
Step 2 – Sign the contract, and sigh in relief!
By following the above steps, you should narrow down your options to the personal injury lawyer with whom you believe is the best choice for you and your case.
When you select a law firm who agrees to take your case, you will sign a contract. The contract should set out the terms of representation as well as the fee structure that you initially discussed. Carefully read through this agreement and feel free to ask any questions about the terms of the contract. As any lawyer will tell you—never sign a contract that you don’t feel comfortable with or fully understand! Once you sign the contract, your new personal injury lawyer and their team can begin working on getting you the compensation you deserve.