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A personal injury attorney is someone who specializes in cases where someone is injured. They assist the injured party by informing them of their rights, gathering evidence, negotiating with insurance companies, and helping victims obtain fair compensation for their injuries.
If you’ve suffered a serious injury due to someone else’s negligence, you shouldn’t have to pay the price. The problem is, you’re likely feeling overwhelmed and have no idea where to start in order to hold that person responsible. For best results, you want to hire a personal injury attorney who will know all your options and handle the legal process for you. But who do you hire?
The United States is full of personal injury law firms all vying for the business of injured accident victims. Some firms promote themselves heavily, while others quietly rely on referrals and word-of-mouth to get clients. A quick internet search will return hundreds of thousands of results. So how do you choose the best available personal injury law firm for your case?
Below we outline three actions to take on your quest, all with their own detailed steps: research potential candidates, screen your candidates, and finally, hire the best attorney for you.
Part 1 – RESEARCH POTENTIAL CANDIDATES
Step 1 – Understand What Your Case Entails
To know if a lawyer is right for you, you must first understand the basics of why you need a lawyer in the first place. Different lawyers focus on different areas of law, and if you’ve been injured due to another’s negligence, your claim is in the personal injury arena.
You wouldn’t hire a business attorney to defend you in a criminal case, and you wouldn’t hire a divorce lawyer to help you after a bicycle accident. Similarly, you don’t want to simply hire any family member or friend with a license to practice law, unless that person has the necessary personal injury experience. Many people make the mistake of hiring someone they know, or someone that a friend or family member might know, even if they aren’t the right attorney for the job.
Furthermore, personal injury law contains numerous subcategories. The type of accident you endured forms a significant variable in personal injury cases. For example, you don’t want to hire a lawyer who only handles car accident cases if you suffered an injury in a slip and fall at Walmart. Handling a car insurance claim is worlds away from going up against corporate giants such as Walmart and their insurers.
It’s also important to consider a lawyer’s experience with your type and the severity of your injury. Some personal injury firms prefer to take hundreds of cases involving relatively minor injuries because they lack in-depth understanding of medical diagnoses and treatments involved in severe or catastrophic injuries. If you suffered a severe or catastrophic injury, make sure to ask your lawyer if they have experience handling cases such as yours.
Even if someone practices in personal injury law, they may not have the experience and resources to handle a wide variety of personal injury claims, from a typical car accident up through a catastrophic 18 wheeler case, or a serious injury slip and fall claim. Some larger personal injury law firms have both the capacity and skills to handle a large variety of these types of cases, but you still need to do your research before you hire them. The upside of hiring a large firm is that you have greater resources and “firepower” behind your claim.
Be careful though: make sure the firm doesn’t have a reputation for treating their clients “like a number.” Sometimes your best bet is to hire a large law firm, but one that offers high levels of individual service. This way, you get the best of both worlds: greater resources behind your case, and personal attention from the team!
Finally, understand that there are different ways to seek compensation in personal injury cases. Insurance companies may offer to pay fairly for some claims, while others may require going to court. You want a lawyer who has handled claims with many different insurance companies and has years of litigation experience in your type of case and the injuries that you need to file a lawsuit on—one who is not shy when it comes to taking on corporate adversaries and big insurance companies, and one who knows all of the negotiation tactics needed to successfully resolve a claim.
Step 2 – Know What to Look for in a Lawyer
A plethora of law firms handle personal injury cases, so consider the following factors that separate the best personal injury attorneys from the rest of the pack:
- Years of experience – Practice makes perfect. It’s just a fact that newer lawyers do not have as much experience and may not know as many “insider secrets” as lawyers who have practiced personal injury law for decades.
- Reputation – Lawyers who are respected in their community and who have a positive reputation will often prove better than attorneys who have garnered less-than-stellar reputations. A positive reputation will often mean a dependable lawyer who will commit to your case. In today’s “age of the internet,” there’s no reason not to do your research!
- Disciplinary record – Lawyers who miss deadlines, do not keep clients informed, or otherwise act unethically may have official ethics complaints filed against them with their state bar or licensing body. Use your local state bar or licensing body’s website to look for any complaints, suspensions, or disbarments on the attorneys you are investigating.
- Availability – If your injuries prevent you from coming to an attorney’s office, see if the attorney will visit you at your home or in the hospital. Look for a firm that has team members available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. These are sure signs of dedication on the part of the firm to its clients, as well as a good “infrastructure” of operations. You don’t want to play phone tag or have any important information slip through the cracks.
- Winning results – It doesn’t matter how many cases a lawyer has handled if the lawyer doesn’t regularly achieve good results for clients! Pay attention to reviews from previous clients regarding past case results. While it’s not a guarantee, reviews may provide a good indication of what a particular lawyer can achieve for you.
Step 3 – View Testimonials, Read Reviews
What better way to learn about the services of a lawyer than straight from the words of clients? Clients are not required to write testimonials for their attorneys. They often choose to do so because they appreciated the help they received. Reading through testimonials or watching testimonial videos can give you a better idea of the experience that you may have with a particular lawyer or law firm.
Do you want an attorney who is all-business? The testimonials may state they were focused and efficient.
Do you want personalized and dedicated attention? Many clients write about how an attorney made them feel throughout the process.
Taking the time to read a lawyer’s testimonials and online reviews from former clients can paint a picture of how they may be able to help you with your current problems.
Note: don’t let a few bad reviews turn you off of a good lawyer. Look at the substance of the review: Did the reviewer seem like someone with an axe to grind, unreasonable expectations, or even a disgruntled employee or a competitor posting a fake review? (This happens more than you would think!) Make sure to see if the law firm responds to reviews as they are posted. If so, what do you think of the response? Do they seem like they care about the opinions of their clients?
Part 2 – Screen YOUR CANDIDATES
Step 1 – The Questions to Ask
After talking to friends and family for referrals, conducting a Google search, and using legal web directories to find different attorneys in your area, carefully research each option and narrow your list down to a few top candidates. Contact these attorneys and discuss your situation with their team, making sure to ask any questions you have about the lawyer, their team, and your case in particular.
You should prepare the questions you want to ask ahead of time, so you don’t get off track or forget any of them during the conversation. You’ll want to discuss what happened to you and how the law firm is prepared to help you. Some common questions for such a meeting may include:
- Have you handled a case like mine before? If so, did you succeed?
- Do you focus on one area of law or handle many types of cases?
- How long do I have to take legal action?
- How long does a case like mine usually take to resolve?
- How will my case be assigned, and who will I be working with?
- How quickly does your office return calls or emails to keep me up to date on the status of my case?
- What is the fee arrangement for handling this type of case?
- Do you think I have a good chance at a successful case?
To provide the most accurate answers to your questions, give the lawyer’s team as much information about your case as possible. It helps if you can gather info before the discussion so you can give specifics about your accident and injuries. If possible, you should have important paperwork at the ready. Documents such as medical records, information about witnesses to the accident, photos you took of the accident scene, police reports, and other important data can be helpful to making this initial conversation as productive as possible.
Taking the time to discuss your case and your concerns with a law firm can give you a feeling for whether or not they will be a good fit for you. During the conversation, if the representative of the law firm talks too fast, skips over important issues, or tries to rush you off the phone, that may indicate the kind of treatment you can expect throughout your case. On the other hand, a representative who takes the time to ensure you understand what’s going on, carefully explains your rights and options, shows empathy and patience, and treats you like a real person can leave you more confident. You should be able to trust that you’ll receive responsive, personalized representation during your case.
Selecting the right lawyer is a personal choice—and also a very important choice. Make certain that your initial consultations are completely free and that you’re under no obligation to hire the lawyer or firm. Make sure the legal team has taken the time to answer your questions and evaluate your potential claim. Don’t let anyone waste your time by simply telling you what you want to hear. Look for an honest assessment of your case.
Step 2 – Understand the Cost
One of the biggest hesitations injured accident victims may have about hiring a lawyer is the potential cost. After all, you’ve heard about law firms charging hundreds of dollars per hour or even $100 for a short phone call! You’ve got enough problems on your plate; you don’t want to worry about money every time you pick up the phone with a question for your attorney. Instead, you need to find a lawyer who meets your needs with a fee structure that you’re comfortable with.
Some lawyers’ fee arrangements can be confusing, and you should always feel free to keep asking questions until you fully understand what the lawyer expects from you financially.
If you’re tight on money and looking for the most cost-effective way to hire an attorney, look for a firm that takes cases on a contingency fee basis. A contingency fee agreement means you do not pay anything unless the firm succeeds in getting compensation for you. Under a contingency fee agreement, all of the work the attorney does to prepare and process your insurance claim is free. Pursuing a lawsuit is free. You will pay absolutely nothing unless you have a successful resolution.
When you do receive compensation, part of your payment will cover your attorney’s fees and costs. Your contingency fee agreement should spell out in writing how much of your payment will go to pay your lawyer—and you should always feel comfortable with that amount. At no time should you need to pay anything out of pocket or come up with money up front.
Contingency fee arrangements benefit everyone. You don’t have to worry about affording an attorney. You can pursue an injury claim, even if you don’t have the money to put toward it. In addition, your attorney only gets paid if you do, so your interests align with your attorney’s. This also marks a sign of your attorney’s confidence in your case—attorneys are unlikely to take bad cases on contingency, because there’s nothing in it for them.
Part 3 – HIRE THE BEST ATTORNEY FOR YOU
Step 1 – Follow Up, If Needed
Imagine that you really enjoy your conversation with the first law firm and feel comfortable with their credentials, their experience, and the overall demeanor of their staff. If you’re comfortable and confident that they’re the right match for you, and they’ve answered all your questions and addressed all your concerns, feel free to move forward with confidence and hire them.
On the other hand, you may have lingering questions or concerns. In such a situation, it may be best to ask to speak to a supervisor, or directly to one of the attorneys on the team. If you do not move forward to hire the law firm after that first conversation, you should keep a notebook handy and write down any questions or concerns that come up so you can have a productive discussion when you follow up with them later.
Even if you don’t have a perfect experience on the very first conversation, remember that discussions can get off track, and legal professionals – just like anyone else – may not give you every detail or answer every question. That doesn’t mean that they don’t care or aren’t knowledgeable; it may have simply been an oversight. Ultimately, if you feel a strong connection with a law firm, either after your first connection or your second – trust your research, trust your instincts, and move forward with representation.
Step 2 – Sign the contract, and sigh in relief!
By following the above steps, you should narrow down your options to the personal injury lawyer you believe is the best choice for you and your case.
When you select a law firm who agrees to take your case, you will sign a contract. The contract should set out the terms of representation as well as the fee structure that you initially discussed. Carefully read through this agreement and feel free to ask any questions about the terms of the contract. As any lawyer will tell you, never sign a contract that you don’t feel comfortable with or fully understand! Once you sign the contract, your new personal injury lawyer and their team can get to work, fighting for the compensation you deserve.
Consult an Experienced Personal Injury Lawyer for More Information Today
When you don’t know where to turn to discuss your legal rights, call a personal injury lawyer. This marks the first step to getting the compensation you need after sustaining an accidental injury.
Find the personal injury lawyer who is right for you. Everyone is different, and people will have varying preferences when it comes to their legal representation. No matter your values or attitudes, never take choosing a personal injury lawyer lightly.
Perhaps nothing is as helpful as talking with the legal team and getting a real feel for who they are and how they will treat you. Look for a legal team that will carefully go over the details of your accident, injuries, and losses. Look for advocates who are ready and willing to provide information about your rights and options. Look for someone who makes you feel as comfortable as possible and will protect your interests throughout every step of the legal process.
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See what past clients have to say:
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“As a relatively new resident of Houston, I did not know of an attorney to contact for a personal injury suit. I randomly went through the yellow pages contacting two attorneys that had rejected my case prior to me contacting Stewart Guss. Stewart took my case on and settled for far more than I had anticipated. The silver lining of this is that I will now have enough money to go back to school for retraining, so I will be able to reenter the workforce in a new capacity. The paralegal, Angela, was kind and supportive throughout the process. If I did not understand the legal jargon, I did not hesitate to ask, and was never once made to feel that I was incompetent. Thank you Stewart and Angela for giving me a new lease on live.”
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