10 questions to ask before you hire a personal injury lawyerby Dennis Spirgen on 09/04/13
Every year, Americans are involved in almost 11 million motor vehicle accidents. That means that sooner or later you will almost certainly have to deal with the effects of a car crash. If you are injured and need to make a claim, dealing with the other party (or his insurance company) can be frustrating, confusing or intimidating. In that case, you will probably want to talk to a personal injury attorney.
Selecting a qualified personal injury attorney can pose its own problems, though, especially if it’s your first time dealing with lawyers. The media are full of ads for attorneys who claim to be “serious lawyers” or lawyers who can “make them pay.” But ads are no guaranty of quality, and picking a lawyer should rest on something more than a catchy slogan.
Here are 10 questions you should ask before hiring a personal injury lawyer.
1. What areas of law do you specialize in? Some attorneys handle a few personal injury cases as part of their practice. Other attorneys don’t handle any other kind of case.
2. How many personal injury cases like mine have you handled in the past? This is especially important if your case has unusual facts, or if you have suffered an unusual injury.
3. How long does it typically take to resolve an injury case like mine? Beware of any attorney who promises you a quick turnaround on your claim. Yes, many simple claims can settle quickly. But if your attorney is only looking for a quick payout, you may settle for less than you deserve.
4. How often will you communicate with me about my case? The biggest complaint from clients is that they can never speak directly to their attorneys about their cases. One red flag: if the lawyer sends an “investigator” or paralegal to your initial meeting, and never meets with you personally before he takes the case, don’t expect him to take your calls.
5. How many cases are you currently handling? Do you have time to handle my case? This ties in with question number 4. Some attorneys take on a lot of cases, but have almost all of the work done by secretaries, paralegals or “case managers.” The attorney won’t take your call to answer questions about your case, because he literally does not know the answers. This approach can work in routine cases, but aren’t you hiring a lawyer to handle your case?
6. If the case does not settle, will you be the actual attorney filing a lawsuit on my behalf and taking the case to trial? Some firms have “desk lawyers” who work a case up for settlement, but who do not try cases. If your case is going to be passed off to another attorney when it goes to court, be sure that you are comfortable with both attorneys
7. How many personal injury cases have you taken to trial, and what were the results? Some large firms handle hundreds of cases, but rarely take a case to trial. If your case doesn’t result in a quick and profitable settlement, they drop you as a client, or farm your case out to another firm.
8. Can I get references from some of your former clients? As with any professional, there is no better way to pick a lawyer than to talk to the people who have used him in the past.
9. Have you ever been suspended from practice of law? If so, why? If the attorney forgot to pay his dues to the Ohio Supreme Court and got suspended until he paid, that’s one thing. If he stole from a client, that’s something else.
10. What is your contingency fee? Fee arrangements tend to be pretty standard, but you should get it in writing before you make a decision. And, of course, you are entitled to talk to more than one attorney and to compare their fees.