When you get hurt and someone else is responsible, your first inclination may be to call the loud lawyer who advertises regularly on TV, or the one who has the biggest ad in the Yellow Pages. Don’t do that.
While many of the lawyers who bombard TV with annoying ads and buy full-page ads in the phone book are probably fine attorneys, chances are slim that the attorney shown is actually the one who will handle your case. Some of the ads are placed by groups of lawyers and your case good be farmed out to someone other than the lawyer you thought you were hiring.
The first thing you should determine is whether you have a case at all. Are you sure another party or a defective product is responsible for your injury? Determine whether the statute of limitations has expired. Generally, you have from one to three years to file suit after the accident occurs or after your injury is discovered.
When you want a new doctor or a dentist, what do you do? You ask friends, family members or other doctors if they can recommend someone. Handle hiring an attorney in the same manner. Once you’ve gotten a few names, it’s time to do your homework.
A little old-fashioned research is the next step in procuring a personal injury lawyer. The easiest way to do this is to use the Internet, but if you do not have Internet service at home don’t skip this step. Go to your local library and find an attendant to help you get signed on to one of the public computers.
One quick way to find out more about the potential attorney is to visit Lawyers.FindLaw.com. Here you can search by state, county or city for personal injury lawyers and find listings that summarize each one’s areas of expertise, whether they offer free initial consultations, phone numbers and other pertinent information. As you search, check out the helpful topics on right side of the Web page.
Once you’ve settled on an attorney and have scheduled a free consultation if it’s offered, use your own intuition. If the attorney in any way makes you feel uneasy, politely move on to the next choice. Otherwise, ask the attorney if he’s handled cases similar to yours in the past.
Next, ask whether the attorney has an area of expertise. Some tend to handle certain types of injury cases like burns or head and spine injuries. Then, ask about the attorney’s fees. Generally, personal injury lawyers get from one-third to 40 percent of whatever you are awarded. If you get nothing, the attorney gets nothing unless there are filing fees or the case goes to trial, you lose and have to pay court costs. Most personal injury cases are settled before a trial.
Once that is discussed, you are under no obligation to hire the first attorney you meet. He or she may tell you that your case is not within their range of expertise. The attorney may refer you to a colleague. In that case, the attorney who referred you can ask for a referral fee from the attorney who represents you and wins. Consult with more than one to find the right fit. When you’ve settled on one, ask for a written retainer agreement.
While you have the attorney’s attention, try to determine what your relationship with him will be through the legal process. How often can you expect updates? What is the preferred method of staying in contact? Does he answer e-mail quickly or return phone messages more promptly. Remember, the attorney is working for you and stands to pocket a nice paycheck. Don’t become a nuisance but don’t let them keep you in the dark for long periods either.
The attorney should appreciate your business and you should respect his abilities while holding him to the highest standards. The attorney/client relationship is mutually beneficial. People who choose good lawyers usually receive 3.5 times more money in a settlement than people who attempt to represent themselves.