If you've been injured or lost a loved one due to a wrong caused by someone else you're probably looking to hire a personal injury lawyer. Not all lawyers or law firms are the same. Nor are all cases. Minor injury cases are quite different from cases involving serious injuries or death. Here are some helpful tips and questions to ask when choosing the best personal injury lawyer or trauma lawyer for a significant case
1. Research the reputation of the personal injury lawyer and the firm
There is no sense in hiring someone just because they are on a big billboard or pay a lot to be on television. That has nothing to do with reputation. To have a winning case, reputation matters! If a firm does good work, they will have a good reputation in the rehab community and among lawyers and judges. Who better to ask than those who actually see the lawyer or firm and know how they perform.
A good reputation means a higher success rate. Insurance companies know this and are more apt to deal with your claim fairly and reasonably. This increases the value of your settlement and the ability to get the case done.
So where do you look for a good reputation? Firstly, paid advertisements saying "hire us," says little about reputation. Most people would not select a surgeon to perform the surgery just because they saw them on a billboard. They would ask their family doctor, nurses, and other surgeons about their abilities and reputation. If you want to hire a good lawyer or law firm, you should do the same. Since many people do not have a list of lawyers at their disposal, you may choose to search legitimate peer review sites. These are sites where lawyers vote on other lawyers who they would recommend. As well, you can seek information from the Law Society. The Law Society oversees lawyers and certifies who is to be a specialist in their area based on a set of criteria. Good places to start researching a lawyer's reputation are below.
- Are they listed in LEXPERT(lawyer peer review),
- Are they listed in Best Lawyers in Canada for Personal Injury Litigation (lawyer peer review),
- Are they listed in the Law Society of Ontario as a Certified specialist in civil litigation
- Is the firm listed in Canadian Lawyer Magazine Top ten personal injury firms in Canada,
- Were they past presidents of a major legal organization such as the Ontario Trial Lawyers Association or Ontario Bar Association?
- Are they rated in Martindale Hubbell with a preeminent rating?
2. How does the lawyer/firm get their cases?
Where lawyers get their cases is telling. Is it from referrals from former clients, other lawyers, and judges (who have seen them in action and know their results) or is it simply from advertising? Ask:
- Where do your cases come from?
- Why did they refer cases to you?
3. Are they leaders in the Legal Community?
Good firms are also leaders in the legal community. Leading lawyers are frequently called upon to teach other lawyers how to practice in an effective and result-based manner. One should always inquire if the firm or the lawyer are recognized as leaders in their field. This will not only give you an understanding of their reputation but will allow you to know they are respected players.
- Do you teach other lawyers in the area of personal injury?
- Do you chair or teach at legal conferences for the Law Society, The Ontario Bar Association, Trial Lawyers Association, Law Practice Program, The Advocates Society, or at Judges' Conferences
- Have your written and published articles in leading magazines?
- Have you published law books in the area of personal injury?
- Have you been asked to teach law students and articling students?
- Have you been asked to consult the government in the area of personal injury ?
- Have you received any awards from legal associations, health associations in personal injury?
4. Is the lawyer and firm experienced?
You would not select a brain surgeon to do your surgery if you knew they had never done surgery on the brain before you. Nor would you ask your family doctor to do it. Selecting a personal injury lawyer to handle a serious injury case, whether it be a brain injury, spinal cord injury, or wrongful death should be no different. Too much is at stake. You want someone who has had actual experience doing such a case before. Experience matters.
Experienced law firms will know how to advance your claim in a timely and efficient manner, Not only will they have a proven track record in dealing with serious personal injury and wrongful death cases, they will have the experience and skillset throughout. You should always inquire about their experience going to trial. Although good lawyers will settle most cases without having to go to trial, having no or limited trial experience will mean they have no bullets in their gun. That makes negotiating and winning a case more difficult when the other side knows that you have nothing to back it up.
As well, why choose a firm or lawyer that does many areas of law as opposed to solely being specialized in the area of personal injury and wrongful death. As they say, "jack of all trades and master of none." You should also inquire if they do most of their work on the other side of lawsuits. Doing plaintiff personal injury cases is very different than defending cases on behalf of insurance companies.
To find out about the experience, ask the right questions:
- Have they done jury and judge alone trials in personal injury?
- Do they devote 100 percent of their time representing people who suffer serious injuries and trauma or do they or their firm do work for insurance companies or practice in other areas of the law like real estate, criminal, family, estates?
- Have you dealt with injuries like mine (mild to severe traumatic brain injury, spinal cord, multi-trauma, orthopedic fractures, amputations, degloving, burns, scarring, internal organ injuries, etc.)
- Have you dealt with a case like mine (cycling accidents/crashes, truck accident/crashes, recreational sports, daycare negligence, nursing home negligence, medical malpractice, boating crashes, city disrepair and negligence, hospital negligence, defective products,)
5. What do former clients and others say about them.
Finding out what others have said about the firm is a good way to help you identify the top personal injury law and trauma law firms. Reviews are written by clients that were in the same position you are currently in. They have nothing to gain by submitting a review about the firm and their opinion will be unbiased. Make sure you make the right inquiry
- What do their Google reviews say?
- Do they have reviews on your site?
- Can I contact a former client?
- Are there any reviews on the peer review sites?
6. Does the firm have the resources to handle a serious personal injury or trauma case?
You should also research firms to find out how they conduct their work. Is it paperless? If so, then they may digitally update you sooner with documents that pertain to your matter. A paperless office means faster more efficient searches and sharing of documents. It means the legal team will have access to your file at all times so things can move quickly.
Updated time management software will also mean that the legal team handling your case is organized, efficient, and on the ball. Technology and resources allow good firms to deal with cases across the province.
As well, do they have a team working for you? Dealing with a serious personal injury case requires serious resources to succeed against large insurance companies. Ask the right questions
- Do you have a paperless document system, and if so what is it?
- Do you have a time management system, and if so what is it?
- Can you or the team access my file online at any time?
- Will you have a team helping you such as legal assistants, law clerks, accident benefit clerks, associate lawyers, articling students, and others helping on the case?
7. Do they only charge a fee at the end and only if they win?
Access to justice is a big problem in Canada. Many people try to represent themselves in complex legal matters because they cannot afford a lawyer.
Pursuing a personal injury claim is expensive. Most cases require expert evidence from doctors, accident reconstructionist, life care planners, and accountants. A good personal injury firm has the resources to hire and pay for the services of the experts that are required to match the insurance company defending the claim without asking their client to help foot the bill.
Likewise, going to a firm that does not make you pay any legal fees unless you win, means that you do not have to worry about how you will pay. You can focus all of your energy on your legal claim and on getting your life as close to where it was before the accident!
- Do I only pay if I win?
- Do I only pay at the end??
- Will I need to pay any money to you to move the case forward or will you pay for it?
- Do I have to give you a money retainer at any time?
- Do you have the resources necessary to pay for the medical-legal reports, accounting reports, and engineering reports needed to win my case?
8. How big is their caseload and what are their results?
When dealing with serious personal injury and wrongful death cases, you should be wary of lawyers that work on a large volume of cases and seek to settle them early without putting the necessary resources or time to build them up. This approach may work on small minor injury cases, but it is not a wise approach for significant ones. Like any industry, different models are used by law firms. High volume, low return or low volume, high return. If your case is significant, you may wish to consider focusing on lawyers that deal with more significant cases.
A good firm that deals with a select number of larger cases will be prepared to put in the time to build your case and hire respected experts to achieve a meaningful and reasonable settlement.
- Do they advertise and take a large volume of cases?
- Do their results show they deal with more significant cases?
- How will you work my cases up and what resources will you use?
9. Do they overpromise a quick resolution?
Quick settlements may be good for some people for small cases. But on more significant claims involving serious injuries, they are not. Be wary of firms that overpromise or tell you that they will reach a quick resolution on a significant case.
Good firms will do their best to move your case forward toward a timely settlement. They have the resources to do so. But they will also be reluctant to settle for a low, unreasonable, and unfair amount.
10. How does the firm give back to the community?
Working for innocent accident victims isn't just about resolving cases and making money. A good personal injury law firm will be active in the community seeking to raise awareness of the rights of victims and promoting safety efforts to prevent others from being hurt or killed.
They will also contribute and sponsor programs that seek to help people who suffer from serious injuries like the brain, spinal cord, and other injuries.
They sponsor projects and organizations to try to prevent injury and protect victims. At times they will ask that laws or infrastructure be changed to prevent accidents and crashes.
- Do members of your firm belong (or have you belonged) to boards, committees, or organizations that enhance the community and safety?
- Do you sponsor hospitals or organizations that try to help people suffering from brain, spinal, and other injuries?
- Do you give back to the community by educating and helping health professionals in regards to the legal system?
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.