If you’ve been injured in an accident, it can be a very traumatic and stressful time. Depending on the extent of the injury, you might need major medical procedures and be without an income while you recuperate. Some injuries even mean the permanent loss of employment. Many families don’t have the savings necessary to carry them through these types of difficulties without serious financial strain, which adds to the anxiety surrounding the injury itself.
If you were injured on the job or through the fault of another party, you may be entitled to damages which can help your family tremendously and allow you time to heal. The first thing that you’ll need to do is choose a personal injury lawyer. This can be a difficult process. If you’ve never hired a lawyer before, you might not know where to start your research. The lawyer you hire makes a big difference in the outcome of your case. A poor choice in representation can mean that you’ll wind up settling the suit for far less than you deserve.
This article is designed to help you choose a personal injury lawyer that’s equipped to take your case and get you the fairest settlement possible. Here, we’ll discuss what you need to know about standard agreements with legal representation in personal injury cases, as well as the basic steps you need to take to vet a lawyer before hiring them.
Make Sure You Are Dealing With an Actual Law Firm
The television show “Suits” is about a fictional law firm in New York where one of the main characters acts as a lawyer, even though he doesn’t have a law degree. Hiding this deception is a major point on the show. Of course, this is just a fictional world, but that doesn’t mean it can’t happen in reality. There are many cases across the country of people without the proper credentials and current standing with the state bar practicing law.
This is especially common with immigration lawyers in immigrant communities where citizens are concerned about deportation. Fraudsters often target people who are at a disadvantage. They bill themselves as far cheaper than regular lawyers, but they’re not competent to help with the immigration work, which can lead to deportation or much more complicated legal issues.
It is illegal to impersonate a lawyer, but the severity of the charge depends on the state. In New York, for example, it’s a misdemeanor.
The good news for you is that it is not difficult to determine if you’re dealing with a real lawyer, if you do the proper research. The lawyer’s own website and advertisements can give you good information about them, their practice, and their record. You do need to look further to see if they are legitimate and what their record is because their website is written on their behalf.
Here are some steps to find and vet your lawyer:
- Check with the state bar. Any current practicing lawyer in your state must be registered with the state bar. You should check their name and state bar number. You should also verify that the information the state bar has on record matches the information the lawyer gave you (address, phone, etc.) You can also get a list of referrals from the bar association in most states.
- Check their references. Any good lawyer will be happy to give you references so that you can see what their past clients have to say.
- Check third party referrals. There are review sites specifically dedicated to lawyers.
- Ask an attorney. You may have used a real estate lawyer or one who specializes in another area of law. Even if they don’t handle personal injury, they can usually give you a referral to a colleague that they trust.
- Referrals from friends and associates. Your friends, family, and associates may be a good source to find a local lawyer who specializes in personal injury.
Ask About Fees and Disbursements
Before you choose a personal injury lawyer, there are a number of questions you need to ask them. One of the most important questions is about their fees. Most personal injury lawyers charge a contingency fee. This is a percentage of the total amount you’re awarded. The average contingency fee is about a third, but it might be as low as 25% or as high as 40%. You can also shop around to see what other lawyers charge in fees to keep that amount in mind with your other decisions.
A lower fee might seem like a great decision but that might depend on the lawyer. Remember, a lawyer who is skilled in your type of personal injury case is more likely to help you get the largest settlement possible. If you go with the lowest fees, but that lawyer is not as good with your type of case, you may still wind up with far less in disbursements at the end of the process.
Another question that you should consider is how the funds are disbursed. Generally, disbursement refers to when you’ll receive the full amount due to you after a case is settled. In a serious and complicated case, especially one that drags out for a lengthy period of time, your lawyer may need to pay for specialists and other costs up front to help strengthen the case. These costs are typically deducted from the final settlement amount prior to paying the contingency fees. You should ask your lawyer how this is handled and if it’s applicable. Also question who is responsible for these fees should you lose your case, which means that no money is awarded.
At the end of the case, funds are generally not disbursed to you the day the case is settled. This usually takes some time to process and can be as long as six weeks. Ask the lawyer what the typical disbursement process looks like, how long you can expect it to take, and whether you need to be present at his office or if the final check can be sent via mail.
Experience in Managing and Taking Cases
You should look for a lawyer or law firm that handles the same types of injury cases. There are different types of personal injury suits and some lawyers will specialize in certain areas of the law. The law firm may also handle different types of law besides personal injury, so you do want to know how your attorney splits their time and what experience they have with your specific type of case.
It’s important to ask whether the attorney you’re meeting with will be the one handling the case. In many large firms, cases may get shuffled to other partners and attorneys on staff. Many very busy attorneys also delegate a great deal of their case work to paralegals and other staff. This isn’t necessarily a negative thing. In these cases, the professionals working on your case also has the benefit of colleagues with a wealth of experience to consult with, so you’re getting a high level of expertise.
When you’re clear which attorney is managing your specific case, you’ll want to answer some questions about their experience. For example, you should ask whether they have experience taking cases to trial. Most personal injury cases are settled out of court, so a lawyer with limited trial experience in this area isn’t necessarily a negative thing. Lawyers who specialize in more complicated forms of personal injury law, such as medical malpractice, will have far more court experience because those cases are settled in court more often.
You should ask what their track record is with your particular type of case. How often have they settled out of court? How often have they gotten the maximum payout for the injury? What their current caseload looks like and how much time they can devote to your case are both factors that you should consider before hiring them.
You should also discuss your specific case with your attorney at this time. They should be able to give you a clear picture of what you can expect in a settlement amount. The attorney won’t know an exact figure because there is some negotiation in the process itself, but they should be able to give you a ballpark figure of what to expect. They should also walk you through the basic process so that you have an idea of how long your case is likely to take until it’s completely settled and you can expect funds.
Your lawyer should also be able to tell you what he expects from you, as far as participation. Often the personal injury lawyer will make appearances on their client’s behalf. There may be scenarios where your lawyer will need to have you appear in court or during the process. They may also need to you make yourself available for medical appointments, second opinions, and specialist appointments. While they won’t know the schedule of these appointments on your first meeting, they should be able to give you a rough idea of what to expect and how time-consuming the process will be for you.
You should verify how the process works when an insurance company makes an offer of settlement. It’s standard that attorneys need to consult with their client each time an offer is made, because you have the final say in whether or not the offer is fair. Your attorney will be able to consult with you after each offer, and they can advise you whether or not they believe you should decline or accept and what the chances are of a favorable resolution if you push forward. Your lawyer should never accept an offer on your behalf without consulting with you first.
Does the Lawyer Charge a Contingency Fee?
We briefly discussed contingency fees in a section above. Most personal injury lawyers charge their clients contingency fees. What this means is that the lawyer only gets their fee if the client receives a settlement. The fee is a percentage of the full settlement amount. In most cases, the settlement will be made out to the law firm representing you. They will then deduct their fee and any costs, and cut you a check for the remainder.
If your lawyer works on a contingency fee basis, you don’t need to pay them a retainer (which would be standard with other types of court cases). Their total fee is paid at the end of the process through your settlement amount. When the payment is made through contingency, there is usually no initial consultation fee. In fact, that would be a large red flag to make sure that you verify the law firm’s reputation and credentials because that’s outside of the normal protocol in these cases.
When the lawyer works through a contingency fee, the benefit for the client is that they do not have to pay large legal fees during a process that is financially straining to begin with. The lawyer also has some financial incentive to fight for the best settlement amount possible, because their own payment for services is dependent on the amount they are able to secure for their clients.
Choosing a Personal Injury Lawyer FAQ
- What do you ask a personal injury lawyer? We covered a number of the questions that you should ask a personal injury lawyerin the article. Most important are questions about their experience and the way that they will work with you to settle your case.
- Does the lawyer only practice personal injury law? This is an important question. Some lawyers have multiple specialties, and that can be fine. But a lawyer that doesn’t specialize in or work in your type of case often will have limited experience compared to a lawyer who only handles your type of injury.
- Does the lawyer specialize in one area of personal injury law? You may decide on a lawyer who specializes even further than simply personal injury, but in the same type of personal injury case as you’re currently fighting. There are lawyers who specialize in medical malpractice, workers compensation, slip and fall, and car accidents. These cases all have different legal protocols that need to be adhered to, so it’s important your lawyer is adequately familiar with the type of case you’re bringing.