When you’ve been injured, finding a good personal injury attorney can feel like a daunting task. This is especially true when you see advertisements for personal injury lawyers everywhere you go in California. With the right information, you can narrow the field to the attorney best suited to handle your case and get you the maximum compensation for your injuries.
A face-to-face meeting with a personal injury attorney is a good place to start. Use the following 10 questions to ask if a lawyer has the background, experience, skills and other qualities required to provide outstanding representation.
1. How will you make a difference in the outcome of my personal injury case?
Personal injury lawyers handle claims on behalf of people injured in accidents or incidents caused by the careless, reckless or intentional acts of another party. The insurance company for the party whose negligence caused you to be injured has experienced claims adjusters, investigators and defense lawyers committed to protecting the insurance company’s money by paying you as little compensation as possible.
An experienced personal injury lawyer has the necessary skills to take on claims adjusters and insurance company defense lawyers to give you the best chance at recovering the compensation to which you are entitled. Your lawyer knows how to gather and present to prove the fault of the other party and establish the extent of the injuries it caused you to suffer.
2. How long have you been in practice?
Though time alone doesn’t make for a good attorney, it’s helpful to know how long your prospective lawyer has been practicing. Whether they are fresh out of law school or they’ve been practicing for decades can be a factor in their suitability.
Additionally, the number of years that an attorney has been in practice is not as important as the number of personal injury cases they have handled during their years of practice. For instance, an attorney whose practice sees one or two personal injury cases each year will not have developed the same skills, knowledge or ability as someone handling significantly more personal injury cases on a daily basis.
What is also important is the reputation the attorney has developed with judges and other lawyers as well as with former clients. One way to find out what clients think about the lawyer is through websites on which people write and post reviews. Google and Yelp offer reviews written by consumers on a wide variety of services. A reputable website that limits its scope to attorneys and law firms is Avvo, where you can find consumer reviews of attorneys practicing in your community.
Another excellent indicator of an attorney or law firm’s reputation within the legal community is the peer-review ratings from Martindale Hubbell. The company asks attorneys practicing within a geographic area to anonymously rate the legal ability and ethical standards of other attorneys. The highest peer-review rating is AV-Preeminent, which indicates the lawyer or law firm has been recognized for exhibiting outstanding legal ability and possessing the highest ethical standards.
3. Does your practice focus on personal injury cases similar to mine?
You want the attorney you choose to not only have significant experience handling personal injury cases but to have experience handling personal injury cases similar to your own. An attorney may be a veteran personal injury lawyer when it comes to construction accidents but a complete newcomer to the area of dog bites.
A personal injury attorney must have knowledge of the law as it applies to the various ways in which a claim may arise, including:
· Bicycle accidents
· Construction accidents
· Car accidents
· Drunk driving accidents
· Distracted driving accidents
· Fires and explosions
· Dog bites
· Truck accidents
· Slip-and-fall accidents
· Hit-and-run accidents
A personal injury lawyer who has handled other cases arising under circumstances similar to your own may have a better understanding of the law and the evidence needed to prove a claim for damages. For example, an attorney who handles construction accident claims on a regular basis would know that multiple parties could be at fault and must be included in a lawsuit.
4. What is your success rate?
Though it is an important question, the answers you receive to this question could be misleading. A law firm that only focuses on settling cases might claim to have a very high rate of success, but some settlements could be for less than the compensation the clients could have received had their cases gone to trial. Be sure to ask about how the success rate is determined (is it simply cases settled, or cases won at trial), that way you have a clear picture of what the attorney’s previous outcomes have been.
The majority of civil cases in California, including personal injury claims, are resolved before they go to trial according to data compiled by the state. You want an attorney who is not only a good negotiator but also has a record of successfully taking cases to trial when a fair settlement offer is not forthcoming from the insurance company.
5. How much will you charge to represent me, and when do you get paid?
Most personal injury lawyers work on a contingency fee arrangement, under which they are paid a percentage of the amount recovered through settlement or verdict after trial. The percentage is determined between the client and the attorney, so ask the attorney to show you the fee agreement, including the percentage you will be charged.
Personal injury attorneys usually get paid after a case is concluded through settlement or verdict after trial. Ask to see a copy of a typical retainer agreement spelling out the fee arrangement.
6. Who is responsible for costs and expenses related to my case?
The costs for expert witnesses, investigators, depositions and other expenses related to the personal injury litigation are incurred regardless of whether you win or lose. Responsibility for payment of those costs must be spelled out in the retainer agreement with your lawyer.
The agreement should clearly state how the costs of litigation are handled if you win. For example, the retainer agreement should state whether the contingency fee is calculated based upon the recovery before or after deduction of litigation costs.
7. Who will be responsible for handling my case if I choose your firm to represent me?
The attorney you meet with might have primary responsibility for your case, but other personnel might be the ones handling it on a day-to-day basis. It is customary for associate attorneys and paralegals in a law firm to work on a personal injury case performing various tasks, including interviewing witnesses, obtaining medical records and other documents, and preparing pleadings and other documents for court.
Ask the lawyer to explain the process the law firm uses to assign tasks related to your personal injury case. You should be given the name of at least one contact person who will be available to answer routine questions about the case when your attorney is unavailable.
8. Will I need to take my case to trial?
Each case is different, so it may be difficult for the attorney to give you a definitive answer to this question. However, the attorney should be able to discuss his or her prior experience settling cases similar to yours in advance of trial.
9. How much is my case worth?
It is difficult for an attorney to accurately evaluate a claim for personal injuries during the initial meeting with a prospective client, but experienced attorneys should be able to give a value range for cases similar to yours that have settled or gone to trial.
10. What documents will I need for my case?
The documents your attorney will need depend upon the type of case. For the first meeting, you should bring copies of accident reports, names and addresses of treating physicians and hospitals, and any other documents containing information about the accident and the injuries that you have in your possession. The lawyer you select to handle your case will obtain additional records, documents and information on your behalf as the case progresses.
Do your homework to find a personal injury lawyer
Do your homework before choosing a personal injury attorney. Don’t pick a lawyer solely based upon the recommendation of a friend, relative or because of an advertisement. The best method for finding a lawyer that you trust and feel confident can give you the best representation is through a face-to-face meeting.