10 Questions to Ask Your Personal Injury Lawyer
Hiring a personal injury lawyer may be one of the most important choices you ever make. Your selection of an attorney to represent you can have a substantial impact on the success of your legal outcome. In any personal injury case, that success is generally measured by the fairness of the claim settlement or the verdict and award of a civil litigation suit. You will be seeking monetary compensation that reflects the full extent of your losses and damages so that your life can be restored as fully as possible without financial jeopardy. Those damages can include past and future medical expenses, past and future lost wages or income, property damage, and compensation for your pain and suffering or similar losses. In many cases, the compensation you receive can make a significant difference in your long-term future.
Doing your homework in the selection process can greatly enhance that future. Below are essential questions you should ask any personal injury attorney you are considering for representation. Your tough questions of a prospective lawyer are as important as any he or she will ask you about your case.
1. Do you specialize in personal injury law?
Any legal field encompasses vast bodies of law, including case law involving previous court decisions, as well as experience conducting the legal procedures pertaining to it. A lawyer who dabbles in many areas of law will not have the detailed knowledge or experience needed to achieve optimal results. You want an attorney who focuses on personal injury in your local area. Has your attorney engaged in continuing education in his/her field? Has he/she achieved any legal industry accolades or awards in the chosen field? Has he/she earned specialized Certification by his state’s bar or Supreme Court? What types of ratings has he or she earned from legal industry review organizations, such as Avvo or Martindale-Hubbell? Does he or she belong to any prestigious legal groups such as Super Lawyers, the National Trial Lawyers Association, or the Million Dollar Advocates Forum? All of these will be indicators of advanced legal expertise.
2. What types of personal injury cases have you dealt with? To what results?
Some law firms concentrate on specific kinds of cases, such as those involving traffic accidents. Others focus on medical malpractice, which is a very complex field involving expert medical testimony. Others may have a history of getting results in claims stemming from defective consumer products, such as dangerous pharmaceuticals, medical devices, or faulty automobiles. Choosing a lawyer who has achieved consistent results in your type of case portends a better outcome. Don’t be afraid to ask an attorney about case results, years in practice, or testimonials from other clients.
3. Will you personally be handling my personal injury case?
Find out if you will be directly dealing with this attorney. Will he or she personally answer your calls? You don’t want your case turned over to a legal assistant, case manager, or junior lawyer. If so, go elsewhere. The time to find this out, however, is right up front. If your initial case consultation is conducted by a paralegal or other investigator, you know right away to move on.
4. What is your contingency fee or fees for service? What does “contingency fee” actually mean at your firm?
Contingency fee structures can vary. Furthermore, you’ll especially want to know this if your case is not settled outside of court but moves forward into a civil lawsuit. The majority of cases are settled through negotiation. If yours doesn’t resolve in a satisfactory way through that avenue, however, you’ll want to be prepared for the financial repercussions that may follow. Ask your prospective lawyer what percentage they take from any financial recovery and how expenses are factored into the equation.
5. What is my personal injury case worth? How much can I realistically expect in terms of damages?
Any experienced personal injury attorney should be able to give you a ballpark answer. Of course, the result can be influenced by many unknowns, but your attorney should be able to give you an idea of what those unknowns are and how they may influence the final outcome. Be suspicious of a lawyer who seems to promise too much.
6. How many personal injury cases are you currently working on?
An answer to this question should give you some idea of how much time this attorney has to devote to your claim or lawsuit. You may ask outright how much time he or she has to handle your case. You don’t want to turn it over to an attorney who stacks cases and handles only in the last minute or when a statute of limitations is looming.
7. How many personal injury cases have you litigated? Do you prepare cases for trial?
An attorney who always seeks the easy way out through settlement – whether it’s in the best interests of a client or not – is not an attorney you want. Those who prepare their cases for trial at the outset get the best results. That’s because they have put the time and effort into them that make negotiation with insurance companies effective. Such time and effort will put your attorney at the ready to present compelling arguments on your behalf before a judge and jury should a trial be necessary.
8. How long does a personal injury case similar to mine usually take to resolve?
An answer to this question should give you some idea of how much work this attorney will put into your case, an idea of the current case load, and whether procrastination is one of his or her faults. Typically, most personal injury cases resolve within 12 to 18 months or sooner unless they involve medical malpractice or defective consumer products in which civil litigation against large corporations ensues.
9. If the insurance company’s settlement offer is not satisfactory, will you be the attorney who files a civil suit and who will be taking my case to court?
The answer to this will inform you as to whether your case will be referred to another firm – a factor which will then present further unknowns. If you do decide to hire an attorney who does this, get all of the facts about the referred firm.
10. Do you have the resources to fully take on my case?
Is the prospective attorney a sole practitioner with few resources to fully investigate and prepare your case or is he/she part of a larger firm with extensive financial and professional resources? A sole practitioner may be OK for a small claim but if your case involves serious injuries, he/she may not have the funds or professional relationships for a full preparation. This is an important question in cases involving catastrophic injuries or medical malpractice where expert testimony from medical, financial, and occupational professionals is needed to back up your claim. Depending on what is at stake, choose the lawyer and the firm that can take your case all the way to a jury trial where that seems a likely prospect.