Make the most of your initial consultation with an attorney after an accident.
- Call in advance and make an appointment. While some attorneys accept "walk in" clients, you face the possibility that the more experienced attorney you want to see may or may not be there and you may be foisted upon a more junior attorney or legal assistant.
- Take as much paperwork as you have. If you've been to a hospital, take the discharge notes. If you have a prescription or an "out of work" statement from a doctor, take them. Accident reports will cut down on time asking and answering basic questions. If there are errors in the accident report, be sure to explain what you believe is wrong in the report and why.
- Photographs should be provided to the attorney. Whether your photos are on a digital camera or your cell phone, take the device to the attorney's office. They should be able to plug the device into their computer and download the photos. If not, you may be able to email them.
- Take all documents that you may already have received from the insurance company or anyone else to the attorney. In a car accident case, take your own "coverage selections page", "declaration sheet" or other document listing the specific coverage that you have if you were in your own vehicle or a family vehicle at the time of the accident.
- Be fully honest and complete in your accident description. If you have had a previous injury or if you suffer from a health condition, tell the attorney. One of the things experienced personal injury attorneys do is to anticipate issues and deal with them so that they do not blow up into problems.
- Understand that you will likely be asked to sign a contingent fee agreement. This document gives the attorney a percentage in the end. In addition, the attorney will pay various costs along the way and will have the right to recover those out-of-pocket payments for expenses at the end of the case in addition to the fee. Ask questions if you do not understand the document. However, be aware that usually the contingent fee document is wholly or largely based on wording that is provided to attorneys by our licensing authorities.
It is a fair question to ask the attorney how much experience he/she has on cases similar to yours.
- Have they tried similar cases?
- Do they settle similar cases?
I embrace the opportunity to tell new clients about my experiences and usually by the time I get done telling war stories the new clients want to politely sign the papers and get out of there. However, when the ink was still wet on my law degree, I simply told new clients of the results that the firm had obtained in such cases, and that I would not have been hired had I not been expected to meet or exceed those expectations.
If you do not feel comfortable with the attorney, do not feel obligated.
Do not be discouraged if the attorney can not tell you how much your case is worth at this early stage. Many things can happen. If you have done the right thing and gone to an attorney right away after an accident it is possible that the ultimate medical document may document injuries of a nature not anticipated at this time. There are many variables to case evaluation. I have addressed this in a separate guide. So, at this early stage, the question simply can not be answered.
You will likely also be required to sign a medical authorization form, allowing the attorney to get copies of your medical records.
It is OK to ask for copies of any document that you sign.