Choosing to file a personal injury claim is a big decision - and one that should never be taken lightly.
The outcome for victims can be enormous in terms of both financial compensation and their resulting quality of life. And while the litigation process can be an intense, emotionally charged experience - with those affected wanting compensation right away - it's important to remain calm and think strategically about how to achieve the best outcome for your case.
One of the most important steps in the process is in choosing the right personal injury attorney to work with. Unfortunately, many people think that all lawyers are the same and that any seemingly qualified individual will due. In reality, however, nothing could be further from the truth.
Selecting the right attorney can make all the difference between having a satisfying outcome to your case or merely heaps of frustration and regret instead. Here are a few elements to consider when deciding on who to partner with.
Just like with any other profession, working with attorneys who specialize in a particular area of law generally leads to better results. Be sure the lawyer(s) you approach have actual experience in handling personal injury litigation cases.
Be warned, some may say they handle these types of cases, but don’t just take their word for it. Ask for specifics:
Although each case is unique, and past performance is never a guarantee of future results, a strong track record in comparable cases is often a good place to start.
As strange as it may sound, the attorney you initially consult with may not be the same person that manages your claim. This holds especially true in many larger firms where senior partners intake clients but hand them off to junior attorneys afterwards.
While the majority of paralegals and junior lawyers are well-qualified to handle routine tasks, it’s comforting to know seasoned professionals are the ones actually in charge of your case. It’s also nice to have a single point of contact for questions that may arise as the situation unfolds.
Everyone would like to think that they can just file a claim, put their feet up and wait for a check to arrive - but that’s simply not reality. Good injury attorneys make it a point to get to know their clients and expect them to actively participate in their case as well.
Any lawyer who tells you that your input is not needed or required is someone you should avoid. After all, the best outcomes require hard work from everyone involved - yourself included.
Here’s the key - great lawyers prepare for trial each and every time they accept a case. For those who don’t are ultimately shortchanging their clients.
It’s true, many cases can be settled out of court long before going to trial, but only if a fair amount of compensation is agreed to beforehand. Insurance companies are notorious for lowballing victims in the hope they will settle ahead of time. However, these offers are normally much lower than what can be expected from winning in court.
Seasoned attorneys know when to stand their ground and fight for their clients. While lawyers who settle too early in the process are usually just looking for a quick payoff (rather than the true compensation their clients deserve).
Some injury attorneys have a bad habit of signing up clients but then letting their cases sit until the last possible minute. Why? So they can work on other claims until right before the statute of limitations runs out.
While this delay tactic is standard practice for many in the industry, it’s just not a good way to do business. Acting on cases quickly helps to preserve evidence, mount a stronger defense and increases leverage when it comes time for negotiations.
Keep in mind that medical bills, lost wages and other debts will continue to mount while you're waiting to get underway. So make sure you have a clear understanding of what to expect timewise throughout the process.
Granted, even the most experienced attorney won’t be able to give you an exact dollar amount for your injuries, but they should be able to provide a reasonable ballpark estimate. Even better, ask them to include examples from similar cases they’ve handled in the past.
On the other hand, anyone who promises you a specific dollar amount from the get-go should be red-flagged. There are just too many variables involved for anyone to be certain of a final settlement. If an offer sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
The vast majority of personal injury attorneys work on a contingency basis. This means they’re paid only if they win your case or provide a favorable outcome.
While this type of compensation model is fairly standard in the industry, the amount of the contingency itself can vary greatly. Anywhere from 25 - 40% of client proceeds are considered normal.
Keep in mind you may also be out for additional costs involved with your case (i.e. doctor’s visits, investigative work, or unforeseen expenses). It’s important to understand everything that’s included with the final settlement of your case.
And yes, it’s true that you usually get what you pay for. But make certain you’re comfortable knowing what you may be giving up in return.
Granted, there may be a valid explanation behind whatever happened, but you’ll want to find out what that reason is before you say yes to a partnership.
You’ll be sharing many intimate details of your personal, professional and financial life with your attorney. Make sure you can trust them with such sensitive and possibly damaging information.
This applies to both clients and colleagues. Once provided, talk to some of these references directly to better understand the person you’re dealing with and the experiences others have had working with them.
On a side note, one of the best ways to find a good lawyer is via word of mouth from others (family, friends, or associates). Never assume that just because you recognize a big name from TV that they’re automatically the best fit for your case. Do your own research and see what type of information you find.
In the end, the main point is to make sure you feel comfortable with whomever you choose to work with. Are they easy to talk to? Trustworthy? Do they seem confident (but not cocky) in their abilities?
These qualities are critical not only in working together on your claim, but in dealing with insurance companies and other third parties involved with your case. Does your lawyer seem organized? Do they manage their time well? Most importantly, do they seem genuinely interested in the details of your case?
Personal injury claims are a highly sought-after legal commodity because of their potentially large settlements. Thus, injury litigation is a very competitive and cut-throat field.
While most practicing attorneys are good and believe in what they do, there’s always a few bad apples out there you’ll want to avoid.
Simply put - trust but verify. Do your homework, ask the right questions and follow your gut to make the correct decision.