Hiring a lawyer to handle your personal injury case is a serious matter that requires careful consideration. What kind of questions should you ask yourself and others in order to make an informed choice? How would you go about choosing one – especially if you've never needed one before?
Seeing a familiar name on a billboard or the back of a bus might bring certain personal injury lawyers to the top of mind but without commenting on the firms that do advertise, I can say that some of the very best firms, like ours, don't advertise at all. Instead, we believe that positive word-of-mouth recommendations and references are worth far more than anything we could say about ourselves.
Seeking out the advice of trusted friends, family or professionals who have been through similar experiences or built a good relationship with a lawyer when dealing with other legal matters can give you some confidence in their abilities. However, it's important to remember that getting a reference for a good lawyer is not the same thing as getting a reference for a good personal injury lawyer. Personal Injury is a specialized area of law. When choosing a personal injury lawyer, look for someone who has expertise in this area, and a proven track record.
Like any relationship, whether you meet someone by chance or through an introduction, the only way to decide if it's the right fit is to get to know them on your own terms. Once you identify the right kind of lawyer or firm, you still need to be sure that you will be comfortable working with them, that they are best placed to help with your particular kind of case, and that they will have your best interests in mind if the case ends up needing a trial to achieve a fair result. To come to this kind of informed opinion, these are the types of questions you should consider asking:
- How many cases of this type have you handled and who at the law firm will handle my case on a day-to-day basis? You'll want to ensure that you are comfortable with the actual individuals who are working on your case and that they are familiar with the kind of personal injury case you have. It should go without saying that you should always meet your lawyer and decide if you'll be able to work well together.
- Do I have a case? And, if so, what kind of damages might I be entitled to? While it is impossible to know the value of your case in the early stages, an intelligent conversation about the strengths and weaknesses of your case is both possible and necessary. The lawyer should also give you some insight as to what types of damages you can expect and how they might be calculated. A personal injury lawyer who will tell you that your case in worth a lot of money without much additional analysis is more interested in getting your case than properly representing you.
- If my case cannot be settled, will you be willing to take the case to trial? Do you have trial experience? And on what basis will I be charged for the trial? Most personal injury lawyers do not require a fee retainer and will handle a case with the understanding that they will be paid at the end, and sometimes receive no payment if the case is not successful. If a case needs a trial, you will want to know if the fee arrangement will change. You should ask if you will be obliged to pay for disbursements or be billed on an ongoing basis, or at any time in the course of the lawsuit.
- Do the lawyer's credentials stand up to scrutiny? Lawyers can be great self-promoters and may share many glowing testimonials or point to awards or other honours they have received. Some of these awards are legitimate, while others are dubious and have little reflection on ability or results. If a lawyer claims to have won awards or received accolades, ask where they are from. Only those that derive from some sort of "peer review" process are actually of any value.
You should always make a short list of the lawyers that you would consider hiring and interview them with these kinds of questions in mind. Although they may all provide similar answers to your questions, your level of comfort on an individual basis may very well be the best indication of whether or not you should hire them. Assuming you have done all the due diligence and they are in fact qualified to handle your case, they will be the right choice for you.
I hope you never find yourself in a situation where you need to hire a personal injury lawyer. But if you do, asking these types of questions should help you find one who will represent your interests well and engage you in a professional way.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.