Friends who live in states where my law firm does not practice law have asked me how they should choose their personal injury lawyers. My answer was simple:
Hire the personal injury lawyer who cares most about you and your family.
Most expected me to provide a longer answer, one that explained the importance of a lawyer's trial experience, reputation in the legal community, or reputation among insurance companies. Many expected me to tell them to focus on where the lawyer went to law school or which law firm employs the lawyer. Some expected me to tell them to focus on the lawyer's win-loss record or the number of million-dollar verdicts or settlements the lawyer secured for clients.
Depending on the facts of the case, some or all of those things could matter a lot or a little. But if all other things are equal, and a choice between two or more lawyers needs to be made, the thing that matters most is how much the lawyer cares about you and your family. The lawyer who cares most about you is most likely to make sure your case is worked up diligently at every phase. That lawyer is most likely to call you every few weeks to give you updates and return your phone calls within one business day.
Even though trial experience is an important thing to consider, as an example, I will explain why I don't advise my friends to focus on trial experience when choosing their personal injury lawyers.
First, very few personal injury cases go to trial. The majority of personal injury cases settle before trial. So negotiation experience might be as valuable or more valuable than trial experience in most cases. Second, the relative values of different lawyers' trial experiences are very difficult to measure, value, and compare. Not all trials are the same. When a lawyer advertises that he or she has tried more than 50 cases to verdict, that information, by itself, does not reveal much about whether the lawyer will do a better job for you in your personal injury case than another lawyer who has only tried 5. Why is the number of trials not enough information?
Let's say you have narrowed your list of potential personal injury lawyers to 2 lawyers. Just about everything about these 2 lawyers is the same except the number of cases they have tried to verdict. One tried 50 cases. The other tried 5. Which would be best able to try your personal injury case? Take a few moments to think about it before reading the next paragraph.
Let's add a few more facts. The first lawyer tried 50 criminal cases during his two-year tenure with a district attorney office in Minnesota. Of those 50 cases, 40 were done in 2 days or fewer, 5 were done in 5 days or fewer, and 5 lasted more than a week. Most of the cases, 30 of them, were for drug- or theft-related crimes. After his 2 years in Minnesota, the first trial lawyer passed the bar exam in Colorado and began practicing for a Colorado personal injury law firm. Do you still believe the number of trials is all you need to know to make a good decision?
Let's add even more facts. The second lawyer never tried a criminal case in Minnesota. Every case she tried was in Colorado state or federal courts. Three of her trials lasted at least 3 days. The other two lasted more than 2 weeks each. All of her trials were personal injury trials. All of her trials required her to examine and cross-examine medical doctors who served as expert witnesses. She also had to examine economists and accountants who helped explain to juries how her clients' earning capacities were going to be diminished due to their permanent injuries.
Which lawyer would you choose now that you have more of the relevant facts? You see, numbers can be misleading.
Before choosing a personal injury lawyer, meet with a few of them face to face. Ask questions that will help you find out whether they will be committed to helping you achieve a fair and reasonable outcome. Try to determine whether they will return your phone calls timely. Most importantly, try to figure out which one will care most about your family.
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