Most states don’t have special certification programs for personal injury lawyers which can make the selection process hard. One result of that fact is that any attorney can simply refer to himself or herself as a “personal injury lawyer.” There is no skill or experience requirement to do so. Since thousands of lawyers (especially in larger states such as California) might do so, selecting an attorney with particular expertise in the field of personal injury can be a difficult task.
If you’ve been injured due to the fault of another person, you might need to hire a personal injury attorney. But, if you’re like the average person, you might not know exactly how or where to start this search.
Below we will review how to choose the best personal lawyer for your case.
Step 1: Don’t Start Your Search with TV Commercials
There is nothing wrong with working with an attorney who has television commercials. Advertising is an important way for attorneys to get clients, after all, and those who can afford big advertisements are often available to take your case quickly. Unfortunately, though, looking at these advertisements shouldn’t play much of a role in your quest to find the perfect injury lawyer.
Remember, what you see on television has been very carefully worded to catch your interest – but it might not be particularly relevant to you. Major firms that advertise on television tend to present themselves as highly invested in their clients and often make it seem like senior partners will be handling cases, when little of the actual work will actually be conducted by those featured in the ads. Look at these advertisements as a good source for phone numbers, but not for relevant legal information.
Step 2: Review The Law Firm’s Practice Areas
Once you’ve got a reasonable idea of who’s practicing law in your area, it’s time to start narrowing down your choices. Not every lawyer practices personal injury law, so you won’t be sifting through every lawyer in your area when looking for help. Instead, you’ll be looking at a very select group of professionals.
The good news is that lawyers are bound by certain professional guidelines when it comes to how they advertise themselves. If a lawyer holds himself or herself out to be a personal injury specialist, the odds are in favor of that attorney having at least a reasonable amount of experience in the field. While there are certainly different levels of competency among those lawyers who practice personal injury law, it’s not a bad idea to start with this list.
It is important to note, though, that not all attorneys who practice personal injury law advertise themselves as specialists. If you happen to know an attorney, he or she might be able to point you towards someone that has handled a few cases in that field. These attorneys don’t tend to spend quite as much time on personal injury, but they do tend to be more than competent enough to represent you.
The best attorney for your case will probably be a firm that specializes only in personal injury cases. Would you want a family or bankruptcy lawyer handling your personal injury case? After all, a jack of all trades is a master of none.
Step 3: Ask for Recommendations From Friends & Family
Now that you’ve narrowed down your search to a smaller group of attorneys, it’s time to get recommendations. If you know anyone who has dealt with a personal injury suit before, it’s a good idea to ask him or her about the experience. If he or she feels like the lawyer did the job well, it’s probably a good idea to go ahead and give that person a call. If not, you can strike him or her off the list.
If you don’t know anyone who has worked with an attorney, it might also be a good idea to talk to another attorney for advice. You obviously won’t be getting a recommendation for a personal injury lawyer from someone who practices in that same area, but you might get a good recommendation from a lawyer who practices in another specialty. Many lawyers have working relationships with other attorneys and regularly send clients their way. While this isn’t necessarily where you should stop your search, it is a good way to continue to narrow down your search.
Step 4: Review Your Attorneys’ Reviews Online
Now that you’ve got your initial recommendations, it’s time to start really doing your research. While the internet isn’t always the best source for unbiased information about lawyers, it is a great place to start compiling information. Most attorneys will have at least some form of client feedback on their sites, which you can use to get an idea for the lawyer’s character. You’ll definitely want to look past that point, though, as you want something a bit more unbiased.
Look at general review sites to see what people say about the lawyers on your list. You’ll probably notice a great deal of negative information, but don’t be afraid – people are more likely to go online to complain than to say something positive. You want to make sure that any lawyer you’re considering doesn’t have a recent history of overly negative comments. If the lawyer seems to be mostly well-liked, you can move on to the next step.
When you’re doing your online research you should consider the following tips:
– Consider avoiding Avvo altogether. Their rating system of 1-10 is not an accurate means of a competent attorney. It can be easily manipulated through their algorithm.
– See if they are rated on Superlawyers. Superlawyers ratings are legitimate and hard to get.
– Do they have a BestLawyers.com rating? This is another legitimate attorney rating website.
Step 5: Review The Lawyer’s Track Record of Success
Doing online research you should review the lawyers track record of success. Have they successfully tried most cases? What is their winning percentage? How much money have they recovered from past clients? While past recoveries will not reflect your case accurately, it’s important to know that they’ve had a lot of success in the right fields.
Step 6: Talk To The Lawyer on the Phone
Once you’ve got your list of possible attorneys narrowed down, it’s time to talk to each attorney on the phone. If you’re hiring a personal injury attorney these consults should be free as the attorneys work on a contingency basis. This is your best chance to go in and ask questions. It’s also your best chance to gauge the attorney’s personality. While legal skill should be your primary factor when choosing a lawyer, it’s important to find someone with whom you will be able to work. If the lawyer rubs you the wrong way, it may be a good idea to keep searching.
When talking to an attorney, don’t be afraid to talk about cost. While many personal injury cases are handled on contingency, every attorney has his or her own methods of charging customers. Knowing more about the cost ahead of time can help you to figure out if this is a person with whom you should work. Even if you like the lawyer’s personality and you can afford the attorney’s fees, you still might have to keep looking. After all, different attorneys have different standards for the cases they take – and sometimes, the attorney might have to turn you down.
Finding a good attorney can be a long process. If you put in the work, though, you will find that the effort pays off. Finding the perfect attorney not only gives you a better chance to move forward with your case, but it also helps you to find someone who will support you during what might be a very trying time.
Below are some questions you can ask to attorneys that will help you pick an attorney that’s right for your case.
Step 7: Ask the attorney: What are the documented record of verdicts and settlements for your clients?
If, for example, a firm cannot present to you written documentation showing a jury verdict over $1 million in one or more of its cases, it is a fair assumption that such a firm will never be taken as seriously, by insurance companies or corporate defendants, as a firm that has obtained numerous million-dollar verdicts. That can be significant even if yours is a smaller case. Most states have some sort of professional journal that reports jury verdicts and settlements, so the documentation is there – you need to ask for it and get it from lawyers that you are considering. GJEL Accident Attorneys have recovered over $950 Million Dollars for their clients.
Step 8: Ask the attorney how many years of experience they have?
As in all fields, how long one has worked professionally is not necessarily a defining factor of success, but it is certainly important information to have. It is most important to ask this question of the lawyer in the firm who will be actually assigned to work on your case, not just the more experienced partner who might technically be in charge, but might never actually work on your case. This issue is addressed again below. GJEL Accident Attorneys opened their doors in 1971 and have over 45 years handling personal injury cases.
Step 9: Talk to former clients have about their results
The proof of how effective a firm is at handling personal injury cases isn’t only based on their dollar amount of recoveries but also what formers clients have to say about working with them. Working with an attorney that has high client feedback shows that the attorneys were easy to work with during the process and also achieved a strong result for their client. Don’t be afraid to research the attorneys or the firm online and see what people have to say about them. Here are some suggestions to help you along your journey:
- Check the attorneys Google reviews and see what the internet has to say about them.
- Do they have a 10.0 Avvo rating?
- Can they provide any client references?
Have they handled similar cases before?
GJEL Accident Attorneys have won cases against all of the major insurance companies in a variety of different practice areas. We’ve handled car accident, wrongful death, and trucking accidents with successful verdicts, just to name a few. Selecting an attorney that has experience in taking your type of case to trial can give you the winning edge and the maximum benefit. Alternatively working with an inexperienced attorney can produce the opposite results. Be sure to ask your attorney if they’ve worked on a case similar to yours before and what those results were. Although attorney’s can’t guarantee similar results it’s a great way to find out if they’re a good fit for the job.
Step 10: See if they are Martindale-Hubbell rated
The Martindale-Hubbell Legal Network evaluates lawyers and law firms in the United States and Canada based upon peer review – what other lawyers in the community say about a particular lawyer’s abilities. This is one of the most valuable pieces of information that you can obtain, and you can do so without much time and effort. These ratings are available on the internet at www.martindalehubbell.com That website explains the various ratings it gives, and what they mean. For example, an AV-rated (highest rating) lawyer or law firm is in the top 5% of all law firms nationwide. Martindale-Hubbell also publishes a book entitled the Bar Register of Preeminent Lawyers. There are other companies that provide similar peer reviewed ratings – SuperLawyers, www.superlawyers.com; and Best Lawyers’ In America, www.bestlawyers.com. See if, and how your prospective lawyer, is rated at these web sites and in these books, most of which are available at local law libraries.
Step 11: Find out what percentage of their practice is devoted to personal injury?
Many law firms practice personal injury law only part time, as part of a general practice that might also include divorce, criminal defense, and other unrelated fields. Law is like many other fields of endeavor: the more an attorney practices in one particular specialty, the more expert he or she becomes. Since, as noted above, any lawyer in most states can call himself or herself a “personal injury lawyer”, irrespective of how many personal injury cases he has actually handled, this is a very important question to ask.
Have you taught courses or authored articles in this field? Do other attorneys rely on your expertise?
Every state has some sort of continuing legal education available, required or not, for its lawyers. Some lawyers teach classes in personal injury law, and its various aspects. Whether or not the lawyer you are considering hiring has done this, or has written articles on the subject in professional journals, is an important factor to consider. Lawyers are generally not asked by bar associations, journals, or schools to instruct others unless they are very competent in a particular field themselves. In addition, non-specialist lawyers throughout the state refer major injury cases (that they do not feel they are able to handle) to other attorneys. Whether other lawyers refer personal injury cases to the lawyer you are considering is important to find out. Ask if other lawyers refer cases to them because of their expertise; then ask who does so; then call up these lawyers and get their impressions of the firm.
Step 12: Ask them what there fee structure is
Most personal injury cases in many states proceed on a contingency fee basis, which means that the client pays nothing unless or until you win or obtain settlement of your case. Contingent fees can differ, not only as to the percentage of a recovery that goes to the attorney and to you, but also as to how that percentage is mathematically computed.
Knowing what your will be charged by a particular attorney and understanding who will advance the necessary case costs of the suit (court filing fees, expert witness charges, etc.) is essential to choosing a personal injury lawyer. These are important points, and differences in how these matters are handled from law firm to law firm can make a great financial difference to you. Here are some specific money related questions to ask:
- Who pays for expert witnesses?
- What out of pocket expenses do you anticipate for my case?
- Can the law firm afford to take my case to trial?
- What percentage do you charge for your contingency fee?
Step 13: Find out what law school the attorneys attended
Certainly, this should not often be a definitive point in choosing a personal injury attorney, but it is valuable information. Law schools can be fair, good, better or best. You may or may not care that much about the reputation of your lawyer’s school, but the more information you have on your potential lawyer’s background, the better.
Step 14: Find out who will be working on your case at the firm
Law firms generally operate with a hierarchy of partners, junior partners, and associates with varying experience from much to little or none. Less significant than who talks to you at the beginning of your inquiry is the experience level of the person or persons who will be doing the work on your case. Ask about this in the beginning, and insist that the firm honor its commitments in this regard, if you do retain them to handle the case. It does not help you if the senior partner is a leader in the field in your city, if he or she never actually works on your case. Know who your lawyer will really be. This is information that you need to know.
How accessible are you to your clients?
Like all professionals, attorneys are usually busy. Some busy people return all their client phone calls, respond to letters and e-mails conscientiously, and update their clients periodically on the progress of each case. Others do not. Does this law firm strive to be within easy reach of its clients? Ask for the names, as references, of former clients. The attorney will have to get permission from former clients for you to contact them, but usually this can be arranged. Call some of these former clients and ask how they felt they were treated. See if there is a former client comment page on the firm’s web site. Of course, only the favorable comments will be there, but just having such a page shows some acknowledgement by the firm of the importance of client satisfaction. Ask about firm policies concerning return phone calls and correspondence. Don’t hesitate to understand exactly how the firm works in this regard. Ask about whom you would contact if something important came up, meet that person, and see if the relationship feels right. Ask whether you will be able to talk to an attorney if you have questions, rather than a paralegal or secretary. Know yourself – if you are the type of client who is going to want significant “hand holding” throughout the case, say so. It is better to know in advance if the firm’s “personality” matches yours.
Other Questions To Ask
Below is an additional list of questions to ask a personal injury lawyer that might help you determine if they’re a good fit for your case:
- How many personal injury cases have you handled? What were the results?
- How long will my case take? Check out our personal injury timeline here.
- Have you ever been rated as the “best” personal injury lawyer by a 3rd party?
- Do you see any potential problems with my case?
- Have you ever been suspended from practice of law? If so, why?