The type of case you have changes the type of attorney you need. In general, a straightforward car crash case with modest injuries can be handled by most personal injury attorneys. On the other hand, complex, serious injury or death cases deserve the attention of highly experienced attorneys with strong track records. You might not think you need an experienced trial attorney if your goal is to settle a case. But, insurance companies take into account your attorney's reputation when they decide how much to offer. Attorneys who do not try cases generally are able to secure less for their clients than attorneys who do.
Research several lawyers
First consultations are always free, so take the time to interview more than one lawyer. Ask friends, family and leaders in your community if they know lawyers. But don't take their word for it. Use the internet to look the lawyers up. Don't be sidetracked by billboards, tv ads and flashy websites. Look at the actual attorney profiles on the web to see: 1) how long have they been in practice; 2) what associations do they belong to - in particular look to see if they belong to plaintiff trial lawyer associations also known as "justice" associations; 3) have they held leadership positions; 4) do they teach other lawyers or in law schools; 5) do they have a track record of trial results; 6) do they have a track record of settlement results; 7) have they written professional papers; 8) have they been honored by their peers; 9) do they handle a bit of everything or are they more focused on personal injury; 10) do they stand out in any particular way - or are they cookie-cutter types.
Make sure you feel a positive connection
When you meet with the lawyer for the first time, how does it feel. Is the lawyer focused on you. Or are they constantly being interrupted. Or distracted. Do they remember what you are saying. Do they have good eye contact. Do you feel like this is someone you can trust. Do they keep you waiting without apology. Do you actually meet with the lawyer or with staff. Do the documents you are given to fill out seem appropriate. Has care been taken to make sure that the office is a welcoming and caring place. Do you feel like you are being treated with dignity and respect. And as an individual with individual needs.
Notice whether the attorney seems caring and knowledgable
When you speak with the attorney do they listen closely. When you ask questions do they answer them or beat around the bush. If you have a technical question are they able to confidently give you an answer or tell you what it will take to get a good answer.
Ask who will actually be working on your case
You may think you are hiring a particular attorney. But as time goes by you may find that they are not actually doing the work on your case. Ask this at the outset. Who will work on your case. What role will each person have. Some firms are set up to settle large numbers of cases. Instead of getting personal attention, your case will be treated as if on a production line. Some firms have new associates or law student interns doing much of the work. Finding out how the firm will staff your case will prevent misunderstandings in the future. Or lead you to your next attorney interview
Decide whether you can trust the attorney
You have to go with your gut instinct on this, but plenty of small clues go into deciding whether you can trust someone or not. Your personal injury claim is an important matter - regardless if it is a modest sized case or a very complex and large one. This will be the person who will champion your cause. And ultimately give you recommendations on how to best resolve them.
Beware of overblown promises
The attorney is not the insurance company or the judge. That means you should beware if when meeting them for the first time they tell you how much your claim is worth and promise to get it for you. Lawyers are held to high professional standards. But overly eager attorneys have been known to use puffery to sign up a client.
Ask for their track record
Especially in cases where the injuries are very severe or death has resulted, you should ask the lawyer to show you their track record. Highly experienced attorneys maintain lists of important cases they have handled and resolved. Make sure that if you have a case that may need to be filed as a lawsuit and tried, that the attorney has a history of strong trial results. Make sure the list includes both "settlements" and "verdicts."
Come away with a meaningful action plan
During your first visit the lawyer should not simply listen to you and give preliminary advice. They should also provide you with an immediate action plan. This is particularly true if the event recently occurred. For example, they may arrange for an investigator to interview witnesses. Or an inspector to review machinery or a vehicle. Or a photographer to document injuries. They will want to gather all sorts of documentation, including insurance information. The attorney will need to identify insurance subrogation (paying back your own insurance company from any proceeds) issues at the outset. If a case is against a governmental entity, they will need to file claim forms. If statute of limitations is an issue emergency actions will take place.
Make sure the paperwork is right before you sign it.
Does the attorney seem more interested in whether you will sign the retainer agreement, than actually interacting with you. If so, this is a warning flag. Sure the attorney may be worried you will choose someone else. But if they don't have the confidence to let you make this choice on your own, in your own good time, then how confident will they be in fighting for your rights in court. You should either be given the retainer ahead of time so that you can read it before seeing the lawyer. Or you should be given the retainer to take home and study. The lawyer should be able to answer any questions you have about the retainer. Almost all personal injury retainers are contingent fee and do not require up front payment of costs (like filing fees and doctor testimony fees). If the retainer seems odd, compare it with another firm's retainer. If there is a mistake or unacceptable position (like paying costs in advance) in a retainer ask the attorney to fix it.
This is a general summary and not an exhaustive list of things to think about when choosing a personal injury attorney. Best wishes in your search for the right attorney for you and for your case.