10 Important Questions for Your Personal Injury Attorney


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Accidents rarely come with any forewarning, leaving most victims unprepared and unsure of how to proceed. When you or someone you know is injured, you will have a lot of uncertainty and need to make a lot of decisions very quickly. You should always seek immediate medical attention for any injuries and also seek the assistance of qualified, experienced legal representation. But, how do you know who the best attorney is for your case?

To that end, here are a few questions you should ask your personal injury attorney to make sure you have the right person for the job:

1. What areas of law does the attorney specialize in?
Obviously, you would not go to a brain surgeon to deliver your baby even though they are both doctors. By the same token, you should not go to an attorney who does not focus their practice on personal injury work. Different lawyers usually specialize in different areas of the law, and as a result, have specialized skills related to those areas. For the best results, you will want an attorney who is specialized in personal injury law.

2. Has the attorney taken cases similar to this one in the past? How many? How did they turn out?
Just because someone specializes in a particular field does not mean they are particularly skilled at it. They might be new to the area of practice, may only do it part of the time, or might just be generally bad. Most jurisdictions now allow attorneys to provide information about prior cases and results, so when possible you should inquire. Of course, past performance is no guarantee of future results, but at least you will have a better feeling for what has been possible for this particular attorney of firm.

3. Will other attorneys be working on this case?
Many people hire an attorney they see on TV thinking that person will actually be representing them. In reality, much of the work is often handled by non-attorney case managers, and hearings are attended by junior attorneys in the firms. These junior attorneys and staff people may be completely qualified and do a phenomenal job on your case, but if it is important to you that you get a particular attorney, not just the firm in general, this is an important question to ask.

4. How long does the attorney think it will take to resolve this case?
As medical bills and time out of work pile up, it is often important to get a feeling for how long it will take before you are compensated for your injuries. It is also important to know how long your life may be disrupted by attendance at legal proceedings, investigative doctor visits, etc. There are a number of factors that will affect the duration of a trial, so no attorney will be able to give you an exact time frame, but they should be able to give you a general estimate based on how long cases similar to yours have taken in the past.

5. Does the attorney work on a contingency basis?
The vast majority of personal injury attorneys will not charge you for their services, but will take a portion from any monies you receive should you get a settlement or a positive outcome at trial. This is known as a contingency fee, where the attorney getting paid depends on (or is “contingent upon”) you getting paid. In fact, most personal injury attorneys will also pay for doctors visits and other expenses as your case progresses but before you have received compensation from the person who caused your injuries. If your attorney charges an hourly fee for a personal injury case, it could become very expensive for you very quickly, and at a time when medical bills are probably also mounting.

6. Can anything be done to improve the chances of the case being successful?
Many people think that as soon as they hire an attorney, they can sit back and wait for a check to arrive in the mail. Unfortunately, that is rarely the case. The attorney will probably need you to see a number of doctors, talk to investigators, and remain involved in your case until its conclusion. Remember, your attorney is trying to help you, so be willing to help him help you.

7. How frequently does the attorney go to trial?
This question can be important because of its implications for receiving a larger payout. Insurance companies, who usually end up paying for your injuries in a personal injury case, will often offer settlements that are much less than what you might be able to get if your case goes to a trial. Your attorney will need to analyze the factors of your particular case to determine the appropriate course of action for your case, but having an attorney who rarely goes to trial may be a sign that he is looking for a quick payoff over getting you the maximum amount to which you are entitled.

8. Has the attorney ever been censured or disciplined by any legal or ethics committees in the past? If so, why?
Again, the vast majority of attorneys will not have been in any sort of disciplinary trouble, but if they have this can be a big red flag. You will want to know what they did to get in trouble and why, as this might affect things like their ability to effectively represent you, the safety of your money in their trust accounts, etc.

9. If client and attorney disagree on accepting a settlement will the attorney yield to the client’s wishes?
As we discussed a moment ago, some attorneys just want a quick payoff rather than making sure you get every dollar you are entitled to. To that end, some will insist you take a settlement, even if you do not agree with it. While fighting a case “for principle” is almost always a terrible idea, as it signals that something other than a desire to seek compensation for injuries has taken over and that person's expectations will likely never be satisfied, you are never required to settle a case if you do not choose to. Some attorneys, however, may withdraw from representing you if they believe you should take a settlement and you do not. So, this is an important question to ask in order to make sure your wishes will be observed.

10. Can the attorney provide references from past clients?
Many jurisdictions now allow attorneys to provide references from past clients. If you are in one of those jurisdictions, past client references can provide a good indicator of whether previous clients were satisfied with the attorney's performance and can be a source of information about the results obtained, time frame, and what else you can expect from your attorney.

Asking these simple questions may greatly increase the odds of an accident injury victim finding the most qualified attorney when compared to trying to select one based on TV advertisements, Yellow Pages ads, or lawyer referral services. One of the best places to find an attorney is through a reference from friends, doctors, professional associations, and your state bar.

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Disclaimer: While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication, it is not intended to provide legal advice as individual situations will differ and should be discussed with an expert and/or lawyer.

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