THREE THINGS TO CONSIDER AND DISCUSS WHEN HIRING A PERSONAL INJURY ATTORNEY ©2005
Mark Wolfe, Attorney at Law
The hiring of a personal injury attorney is an important decision. Yet most injury victims have no idea how to go about selecting the right personal injury attorney for their case. Without this information, many injury victims fall prey to slick TV commercials, big ads in the yellow pages, or even fancy internet ads. Just because an attorney has a large advertising budget does not mean he or she will be the right attorney for your case. (In some States, such as my home State of Alabama, there is no restriction on what an attorney can say in an advertisement as long as a "fine print" disclaimer is included; i.e., hidden, somewhere in the ad.)
The three key areas for inquiry when considering hiring a personal injury attorney are: 1) Contingency fees, 2) Trial experience and, 3) Resources. Having an experienced and qualified attorney with litigation and trial experience is important to achieving a good outcome. Also it is important to have an attorney who is truly concerned about your situation and who is committed to protecting your best interest through the legal process. There is a good attorney out there who can help you and I hope this article helps you find that attorney.
- CONTINGENCY FEES:
Most people know that personal injury attorneys who represent personal injury victims do so under a contingency fee contract. (The attorney fee is a percentage of the money recovered by the attorney.) Yet the percentage or contingency amount can vary greatly between lawyers. Also the personal injury victim should know exactly how the contingency fee is going to be applied and calculated. In addition, they should know what expenses can be expected and how those expenses will be handled. NOTE: Some states allow personal injury attorneys to advance litigation or legal expenses for a client. The client will be responsible for reimbursement of those expenses. Therefore, it is very important for a personal injury victim to know what percentage contingency fee will be applied and the approximate amount of the expenses Sample questions for personal injury victims to ask the lawyer about contingency fees:
· What benefits does your contingency fee apply to? [If you have a personal injury claim arising from a motor vehicle collision, you’ll want to know if the attorney is going to apply the contingency fee to the property damage recovery and/or secondary benefits such as med-pay.]
· How will the legal expenses related to my claim or case be handled?
· About how much do your think the legal expenses will be for my claim or case?
· Will I get a copy of the contingency fee contract I sign?
· When the case is over will I get an itemized settlement statement showing fees and expenses?
· Do you have a sample itemized settlement statement from a similar case?
- TRIAL EXPERIENCE:
Many personal injury claims can be resolved without ever having to consider filing a lawsuit or litigation and most personal injury matters where a lawsuit is filed resolve without a trial. Yet, you should not be afraid to ask the lawyer about his or her trial experience in handling similar personal injury matters. The goal in handling a personal injury claim or case is to resolve the matter for a fair amount without having to subject the client to the stress, strain and uncertainty of a trial. While it is true that most civil claims and cases settle without a trial, trial experience is critical when hiring a personal injury attorney. Insurance adjusters and company risk managers know and rate the experience level of the attorney representing a claimant. This is a factor in their evaluation of a claim. It is a sad reality that some personal injury attorneys or personal injury law firms that rely heavily on advertising are nothing more than “claim factories" with very little, if any, courtroom experience. Attorney advertising rules and regulations are very lax in some jurisdictions allowing inexperienced and incompetent lawyers to advertise extensively for personal injury claims. Talk with people in the community about their recommendations. Also, many healthcare professionals who treat injury victims have knowledge about the skill and experience of local attorneys. In addition, lawyers in the community who may practice in other areas of the law may be familiar with local personal injury attorneys with courtroom and trial experience. Sample questions for personal injury victims to ask the lawyer about his or her trial experience:
· How many cases similar to mine have you actually tried in Court? Tell me about the results of those cases.
· How many cases have you litigated with the at-fault party or their insurance company?
· What lawyer do you think will be on the other side of my claim or case?
· What can you tell me about him or her?
· Have you ever tried a case against that lawyer?
· Are you a member of any professional organization related to your litigation and trial skills?
When hiring a personal injury attorney you should also consider the resources of that lawyer and law firm. This includes the financial resources necessary for the expenses of the claim or case and the general resources such as personnel and technology. A lawyer’s commitment to having skilled and qualified support personnel is reflective of an attorney who wants the best for his or her client. Likewise attorneys who want to be efficient and effective for their clients utilize current technology and state of the art office equipment. Simply put, if the lawyer does not want to, or can not afford to, invest adequate resources into his or her own practice, what makes you think he or she will invest adequate resources in your claim or case? Also, remember the insurance company or risk manager for the at-fault party will have access to tremendous resources to use against you and you want to make sure your attorney has similar resources. Sample questions for personal injury victims to ask the lawyer about the resources for a claim or case:
· Do you have the financial resources necessary to effectively handle my claim or case?
· Do you have an investigator on staff?
· Do you have access to data information services?
· Who else in your office will be assisting you on my case?
· What will they be doing?
REMEMBER CONSULTATIONS ARE FREE:
Personal injury victims should be cautious of attorneys who push too hard to have a representation agreement executed immediately. Most personal injury attorneys do not charge for consultations and this allows injury victims the opportunity to talk with several different lawyers or law firms before hiring a lawyer or law firm. NOTE: There are situations and times when immediate legal intervention may be necessary but the attorney should fully explain such a situation.
The hiring of a personal injury attorney is an important decision. Yet most injury victims have no idea how to go about selecting a good personal injury attorney for their case. Having an experienced and qualified attorney with litigation and trial experience is important to achieving a good outcome. Also, just as important, is having an attorney who is truly concerned about your situation and who is committed to protecting your best interest through the legal process.
There is a good attorney out there who can help you and I hope this article helps you find that attorney.