Getting fair compensation for your injuries can depend on having a good attorney. Here’s what you need to know to hire the right attorney for your case.
Choosing a personal injury attorney can be a challenge. There are so many out there.
Some attorneys have their names and faces plastered on billboards, while others don’t even advertise. Some have offices in high-rise buildings, while others work out of small offices.
Some attorneys limit their practices to catastrophic injuries from medical malpractice and wrongful death. Others concentrate on asbestos and related toxic poisoning cases. Many have expertise in car accidents, slip and falls, and workers’ compensation.
Attorneys come in all shapes and sizes. They seem to be everywhere. When you’ve been injured, choosing the right attorney can be overwhelming. Here’s how you can find and choose an injury attorney who will be your best advocate.
Find an Attorney You Can Trust
You must have total confidence in your attorney. You don’t want to be second guessing them throughout your case. Using your existing network is a great way to find someone who’s trustworthy and accountable.
There’s nothing wrong with reading an attorney’s advertisements, social media, or website. The firm’s website is a great way to find out what types of cases the attorney handles, and where they practice. Some attorney sites even describe the injury compensation they’ve recovered for select clients.
Ads and websites are helpful, but should not be used as the sole basis of your decision.
Use Your Network to Find an Attorney
- If you’ve previously retained an attorney for a divorce, contract dispute, or other civil matter, contact that attorney for a referral. If you had a good relationship with that attorney, they can likely refer you to an attorney with similar values.
- Ask family and friends if they’ve ever retained a personal injury attorney. If the experience was positive, arrange for a consolation.
- If your family and friends don’t know a personal injury attorney but have retained an attorney for a divorce, contract or other legal matter, ask them to contact that attorney for a referral to an injury attorney.
Check the Attorney’s Rating
Regardless of where you find your attorney, make sure they are a member in good standing of their state and local bar association. Larger bar associations have attorney referral lists you can access at no charge.
You can also use online rating guides to get an idea of the attorney’s standing. Ratings serve as an objective indicator of a lawyer’s skill and reputation. Some reliable rating programs include:
Once you’ve gotten recommendations and checked ratings for all your potential attorneys, narrow down your options to three or four candidates.
The next step will be making calls and setting up appointments.
Factors for Comparing Attorneys
Every personal injury case is unique, and every attorney-client relationship is also unique. There are several factors to think about when choosing the attorney who will best fight for you.
A personal injury attorney can have many years of experience or relatively few. Attorneys with more experience will have heavier caseloads and may not be readily available every time you call.
On the other hand, an experienced attorney may have developed a good working relationship with claims adjusters, a reputation for not settling cases if the offer isn’t high enough, or as a tough litigator with whom insurance companies don’t want to fight.
An attorney who’s just starting out may be looking for cases. New attorneys trying to build a practice will be eager to accept new clients. Attorneys just out of law school want to prove themselves. There’s a good chance they’ll fight as hard or harder for you than any attorney you’ll find. Their fee depends on it.
Because new attorneys don’t have a substantial caseload yet, they’ll probably be more accessible and willing to take smaller cases. You may have a much better chance of getting them on the phone or seeing them in person to discuss the status of your case.
Successful attorneys who specialize in complicated litigation must be able to advance the funds needed to pay for medical experts, medical record reviews, product engineering specialists, actuarial accountants, and more.
Graduating at the top, middle, or bottom of one’s law school class may have little to do with how an attorney will represent you. Whether someone graduated from Harvard Law or a state law school won’t matter if they don’t have the negotiating skills needed to get high settlements for clients.
Not all great lawyers graduated from Ivy League schools at the top of their class. It’s the attorney’s experience in handling cases like yours that really counts.
Location and Presentation
Having a luxurious office in a fancy building is no guarantee the attorney will do a good job on your case. Choosing an injury attorney based on appearance alone can be a mistake. Some attorneys choose to locate their practices in sleek office buildings, while others prefer to maintain a lower profile.
For an attorney, choosing an office location is a personal preference. There’s no legitimate correlation between an expensive office location and an attorney who will best represent your interests.
First Contact With an Attorney
Choosing an injury attorney now becomes more personal. Advertisements and recommendations from friends and family can be helpful, but you’ll ultimately have to rely on your own judgment. You must have confidence in the attorney’s ability to represent your best interests.
Reputable personal injury attorneys don’t charge for initial consultations. Make an office appointment and bring all your documentation with you. That’s the best way to get acquainted and develop a good feel for how the attorney will handle your case.
Our free Choosing an Attorney Worksheet makes it easier to evaluate and compare attorneys.
Your relationship with the attorney and staff may last for months, even years. Your decision should be based on the relationship you expect and deserve to have.
That relationship begins with your first call and initial consultation. Afterward, an honest evaluation of your experience will help you decide if it’s the right firm for you. Ask yourself:
How long did it take to answer your call?
If your call isn’t answered right away, or you are put on hold for a long time, that’s an immediate indication the firm is overwhelmed with too many cases, or their staff is inadequate.
Was the receptionist polite or indifferent?
If the person answering your initial call is impolite or insincere, you won’t get a positive first impression. You want to feel welcome as a client, especially later when you call for updates on your case. You don’t want to be dismissed or made to feel like you’re a bother.
Were you able to speak with the attorney?
Successful attorneys will be busy meeting with clients, attending depositions, or will be in court. You may not be able to speak directly with the attorney every time you call, but you should get a reliable indication of when the attorney will return your call.
Many times, attorneys will dictate an answer to your question and ask staff to return your call so as not to keep you waiting.
Who was your initial appointment with?
Some attorneys have their paralegals or even secretaries screen cases. It’s inappropriate for an attorney not to at least give you the courtesy of a face-to-face meeting.
Is there any charge for your first consultation?
Most reputable personal injury attorneys never charge a fee for an initial consultation. You can verify that there’s no charge for the consultation when you make the appointment.
Was the attorney’s office clean and organized?
A cluttered and disorganized office is often a sign of a cluttered and disorganized attorney. Disorganization can lead to lost files and documents, missed deadlines and court appearances, and improperly handled cases.
Did you have to wait a long time to see the attorney?
Like a doctor’s office, sometimes there’s a wait before seeing the attorney. A staff member should greet you and give an estimate of how long you’ll have to wait.
Sometimes meetings with clients go longer than expected, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In the future, it could be you who’s getting the extra time with the attorney.
Did the attorney appear well-groomed and professional?
A professional appearance and demeanor are important. If the attorney looks unprofessional to you, they won’t make much of an impression on a jury, either.
Did the attorney give you their undivided attention?
If the attorney can’t even give you 15 minutes of attention the first time you meet, there’s a good chance your case will be handled the same way. If your meeting is interrupted by telephone calls or staff, you may want to look elsewhere.
You want an injury attorney who will give your case the time and attention it needs.
Did the attorney answer all your questions?
You don’t want to walk out of your first meeting with unanswered questions. It may be unrealistic to expect the attorney to give you an exact dollar value for your case, but you should discuss:
- Pros and cons of your case
- Approximately how long it will take to settle
- The likelihood your case will go to trial
- A range for the settlement amount (based on your documentation)
Who will be working your case?
There are personal injury attorneys who delegate much of the work on their clients’ cases to other attorneys or paralegals. When choosing an injury attorney, you want to know exactly who will be working on your case.
Do you feel confident in this attorney?
After weighing all the factors, your decision will likely come down to your gut feeling about the attorney. If they inspired confidence and made you feel comfortable from your first contact, they may be the right attorney for you.
Questions to Ask the Attorney
The initial office consultation is the best time to ask questions about your case. Evaluating the attorney’s answers to your questions, and how they were answered, will help you decide who should represent you.
All of the following questions are reasonable and should be answered to your satisfaction. If you don’t understand the attorney’s answer, ask for clarification.
If you aren’t comfortable with the answers you receive, you have good reason to eliminate that attorney from your list and move on. Here are some questions you should ask:
Are you board certified in personal injury litigation?
Although board certification is no guarantee of performance, to become board certified means the attorney has extensive experience in the courtroom and has passed a rigorous state bar examination to qualify as an expert in personal injury trial law.
How often do you go to trial?
The vast majority of personal injury cases are settled out of court, with only about three percent of cases resolved through a court trial. Statistically, that’s about three court trials for every one hundred personal injury claims. ¹
In reality, the number of trials under an attorney’s belt depends on the severity of your injuries, and the specialty of the attorney. Some “heavy hitter” attorneys specialize in high-dollar, complex cases that are almost always battled out in court, like medical malpractice cases.
Car accident cases and slip and fall cases are much more likely to be settled out of court, especially when the victim is seriously injured. Insurance companies try to avoid putting a badly injured victim in front of a sympathetic jury, so they will pony up with a good settlement offer.
If you need an attorney for a car accident case, a better question might be how often the attorney gets “policy limits” for seriously injured clients. In other words, the client gets every available dollar from the insurance policy.
What is your caseload?
The actual number of cases that can be successfully managed by a law firm will depend on the type of cases, how many attorneys share the caseload, and the level of administrative support.
Some attorneys are sole practitioners with little or no administrative help. Single attorneys typically handle “family law” cases, prepare wills, and will take occasional car accident claims.
If you have a fairly minor case to be settled out of court, and just want someone else to deal with the insurance company, you might be comfortable with a sole practitioner, but make sure they aren’t overloaded.
Mid-sized firms might have a less experienced attorney handling less complicated cases, under the supervision of a senior attorney. They will have experienced staff to type documents, follow up on discovery requests, and other time-consuming tasks. The attorneys can work more cases, and they have the staff to help them prepare for trial.
Some attorneys are highly specialized, like malpractice and product liability attorneys. They will have experienced staff and their caseload will be necessarily smaller because each case is work and time intensive.
If you accept my case and can’t settle, will you take it to trial?
When an attorney accepts your case, they have a responsibility to do everything possible to protect your interests. You have a right to know that the attorney will take your case to trial if the insurance company refuses to settle for a reasonable amount.
If you win your injury case at trial, what happens if the insurance company appeals the decision to a higher court? Find out if the attorney is willing and able to handle appellate court cases, and how that might affect your fee schedule.
This might be a good time to talk to the attorney about your “rock bottom” settlement amount. Clear communication upfront can avoid a situation where you refuse to settle against the advice of counsel.
Will you tell me every time an offer is made?
An attorney has a duty to communicate all settlement offers to the client. You have a right to know when the insurance company makes an offer, and for how much.
You want to be sure any offer, no matter how small, is communicated to you promptly. Be sure the attorney knows they must not settle your case without your approval.
How long do you expect my case to take?
Although an attorney can’t tell you the exact date your case will settle or go to trial, they should give you a general idea of how long it will take. Experienced attorneys get a feel for how long cases like yours generally take to settle with different insurance companies, or if your case is likely to end up in court.
How much are attorney fees and costs?
Before retaining an attorney, be sure you understand how the attorney gets paid, and which of you are responsible for paying costs, like court filing expenses, photocopy charges, and so on.
Most injury attorneys are paid on a contingency basis, meaning the amount of their fees depends on how much money they recover for you. If your claim doesn’t settle or you lose in court, you won’t owe any attorney fees.
You may be able to negotiate the attorney’s fees if you’ve already done a lot of the leg work, or the settlement won’t cover much beyond your medical bills.
Choosing an injury attorney is an important decision that should be made after careful consideration of all the factors involved. You owe it to yourself to find out what a good personal injury attorney can do for you.
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