Factors in Retaining a Personal Injury Attorney

The Many Reasons You May Need to Hire a Personal Injury Lawyer

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When another person or entities actions result in injuries to you or a loved one, it may seem natural that they would offer compensation for the injuries or their insurance company would step up and do the right thing and offer a fair settlement. While this may seem like the right thing to do, it rarely happens.

In most instances people do not want to take responsibility for their actions that led to injuries and the insurance company definitely does not want to be fair. They are in business to profit and do so at the expense of under-compensating the injured victim with a claim. The insurance company has attorneys who know the laws intimately and know that most victims are not lawyers and have no clue what their legal rights are, or how to negotiate and what they are actually owed.

The knowledgeable personal injury attorney has the skill to build your case and negotiate with the insurance company. In the event the insurance company does not agree to a fair settlement, they are prepared to take your case to trial. It is possible to negotiate with the insurance company yourself. The insurance company will use every tactic they can to take advantage of you and to pay out the lowest possible settlement in your claim.

At the same time you are attempting to negotiate, the insurance company will be attempting to obtain statements from you that will damage your claim and affect your position, if you decide to take them to court. Even with the attorney fees, the skilled lawyer can obtain a favorable settlement, which would be more than you would be able to get on your own, after their fee has been deducted.

The Cost of Hiring a Personal Injury Lawyer

The personal injury lawyer normally will accept cases on a contingency fee basis, which means that the client does not pay any fee, until there is a favorable settlement or jury award in their case. Then a percentage of the award will be taken as the attorney fee that has been agreed upon, by the client and lawyer. If the lawyer does not win the case, they will not receive an attorney fee, however there may be other costs that you will be responsible for associated with your case.

In a personal injury case there is a filing fee for the lawsuit, whether you win or lose, there are fees for obtaining medical documents, the use of expert witnesses and other costs. This generally is not an issue, since most civil litigation cases settle prior to taking them into court, but you may want to discuss the associated costs with your attorney.

The contingency fee your lawyer will charge can vary, from state to state, however in most states the attorney fee will be between one-third and 40 percent of the compensation award or settlement. This will be different, if the case is a workers’ compensation case, these are strictly regulated and are normally a lower lawyer fee, than other types of personal injury claims.

When your claim is potentially worth a lot of money, it may be possible to negotiate a reduction in the attorney contingency fee, normally though the most skilled lawyers are not willing to negotiate their fees. They will usually be able to recover a substantial amount, over what a less experienced attorney would be able to obtain, which results in a higher award to the client, even after the percentage is taken by the lawyer.

How to Find a Lawyer

There is a variety of ways to obtain the names of attorneys. You can ask friends, your doctor or other healthcare professional for recommendations. It is possible to find one by looking in the Yellow Pages or an online attorney directory and you could contact the State Bar lawyer referral service. While there are no right ways to find a good personal injury lawyer, there are many ways to search for a legal professional.

Have an Attorney You Trust, Ask for a Referral

A way that you may be able to find a personal injury lawyer is by asking an attorney you trust. If you do not know any attorneys, ask friends and family, if they do. This legal expert does not need to give you the name of a lawyer, who will be able to handle your case. What is important is they lead you in the direction of a lawyer, who will understand the elements of your claim and have the skills to handle it. If this legal professional is not able to take your case, they often will be able to refer you to an attorney who would be able to take your case.

One thing you should understand is in this situation, attorneys often receive “referral fees,” in the event that they send a personal injury case to another lawyer or law firm. The fee amount may be significant and generally will be approximately one-quarter to one-third of the fee that is received by the personal injury lawyer handling the case. What this can mean to you is that the lawyer, who refers another legal professional, has an incentive to refer a skilled personal injury lawyer. In the event that the referral fee makes you uncomfortable, you should ask the referring attorney what he expects as a referral fee.

Membership Organizations and Referral Services

State Bar organizations normally will offer referral services to assist people in finding lawyers. Members of the organization can list with this referral service, and there will be no way for you to know, if the lawyer is competent to handle your case.
There are some special organizations, including the American Association for Justice that has online directories of their members. The members of the AAJ are usually personal injury lawyers, who are highly skilled. These organizations normally are open to all attorneys, which mean that the lawyer has paid a membership fee.

Online Attorney Directories

There are numerous commercial online directories that declare they screen the lawyers and they often state they only list the most qualified attorneys on their website. This is usually not true. Whatever their promises are, most online directories will list any personal injury lawyer, who pays the required fee to be listed and there is no guarantee what-so-ever that the attorneys listed in the directory are skilled to handle your case.

On the internet there are many websites that look informal, however they are owned by law firms. This is something you should be cautious of, any injury information website that lists a law firm, or offers attorney referrals, especially when it does not clearly identify its sponsors.

Legal Advertising

Legal advertising can be cleared up in two parts:

  • Lawyers with 800 numbers on television advertisements.
  • The large Yellow Page advertisements.
  • Lawyers with 800 Numbers and Television Advertisements

As a rule it is not a good idea to hire an attorney or law firm that you have seen on television or the radio. Many of these commercials are paid for by referral agencies. They do this to collect a large number of calls and then divide them up between the lawyers, who are members.

In the event that the advertisement is paid for by a law firm, it is not unusual for them to refer many of the cases out to other firms, who share the high cost of advertising with them. The law firm that does the advertising campaign, most of the time will not have an office located in your area. Even if they do, if your case is not worth a lot of money, you will often find your case is quickly referred to another law firm or that you do not get the attention you deserve for your claim.

Many of the best personal injury lawyers do very little advertising, which should be considered when hiring a legal professional. They get many of their cases through referrals from other lawyers, because of their reputation for quality work and successful results.

Large Yellow Page Advertisements

When looking in the yellow pages, there will usually be two types of advertisements, one will be the local attorney, who chose this as a way to promote their legal practice. The second type will be the large legal firm that is not local, and often the ones that have a television advertisement campaign.

The largest ads in the yellow pages are from personal injury law firms, who believe this large advertisement will bring them high numbers of injury cases. There are many of the best law firms and personal injury lawyers, who do not pay for full page ads and as already discussed they often do very little advertising or none. The other part of this is some lawyers will pay for the largest ad they can afford. They do this to make their practice appear larger or more qualified than it really may be.

When looking at the yellow pages, most lawyers will advertise they specialize in “personal injury claims.” In reality many of them have actually handled very few of these cases and have never had a jury case. While the yellow pages prove that a law firm is established, even large advertisements do not guarantee the firm has the skill or qualifications to handle your case.

Do Personal Injury Attorneys Specialize?

The answer is yes. When looking for a personal injury lawyer, this is one of the things that should be considered. For example the legal professional might handle worker’s compensation cases, but not medical malpractice law, or they may specialize in car accidents, but not in motorcycle crashes. Workers’ compensation cases are primarily handled in administrative courts, which is different than other personal injury law cases. Seeking a lawyer is comparable to looking for a doctor that specializes in a specific type of medical care. When looking for an attorney, it is best to find the attorney or law firm that has considerable experience in the area of law of your claim.

There are law firms that specialize in personal injury cause of action claims, and firms that focus on spinal cord, brain injuries and burn injuries. Then there are the law firms that primarily handle car accidents, defective products and construction accidents. These may all be skilled litigators, you will find it beneficial to question whether the attorney you consult has experience in your type of injury case, prior to hiring them.

Do You Need to Hire an Attorney You Have a Consultation?

You do not have to hire a personal injury lawyer, who you have a consultation with, and though it is rare for them to charge for an initial meeting with a potential client, you should clarify that it is a free consultation. If the attorney charges a fee for a consultation, then it is not advised to hire this legal professional. The free consultation does not mean you have to hire the attorney, and it will give you time to determine if they are the right legal expert to handle your case. If you do not believe they are, you are not obligated to hire them. Hiring a personal injury lawyer is an important undertaking and consulting several lawyers to determine who makes you feel the most comfortable and qualified.

Asking the Lawyer Questions

It is important to ask the prospective lawyer questions, which will vary depending on your type of case. There are some questions that can be used to start with:

  • What areas of personal injury law do you specialize?
  • Have you attended continuing education courses, and if so what ones?
  • Have you ever taught any courses?
  • Were you ever disciplined by the ethics committee? What was the reason?
  • Have you ever been suspended from practicing law? What were the circumstances?
  • Do you take cases on a contingency basis?
  • Have you ever handled a case like mine? How many have you handled and what were the outcomes?
  • What are the things I will need to do to improve my case or to help you?
  • Are you going to be the only lawyer working on my case? If you are not the only one, then who else will be working on it?
  • How long do you feel it will take for my case to be resolved?
  • If I am unhappy with a settlement offer, and you want to settle, would you go to court?
  • Do you take cases to court often?
  • What happens if there is a settlement offer I am happy with, but you believe we would win more by going to trial, will you adhere to my wishes?
  • If I have a question and contact your office, who long will it take you to return my call?
  • If you are unavailable or go on vacation, who will I be able to speak to about my case?

Normally when hiring someone it is common to ask for references, however with an attorney this is not possible, due to attorney-client confidentiality. You can ask for references from other lawyers.

Written Retainer Agreements

You should always ask for a written retainer agreement, this is the best way to protect your rights. It is also a requirement in many jurisdictions for a contingency fee agreement to be in writing and valid. Normally personal injury lawyers use a fairly short fee agreement. Even though this looks short and simple, it is crucial to carefully read this agreement in its entirety, prior to signing it. In the event there is some part of this agreement you do not understand, you need to ask for it to be clarified, before you sign the document.

What happens if You do not Like the Work the Lawyer Does?

Remember, your attorney works for you and you do have the right to end their services at any time. The one thing to remember is the lawyer is entitled to be compensated for the work they have preformed, prior to the termination of the attorney-client relationship. When the lawyer was representing you on a contingency fee bases, in many cases they will be entitled to a portion of the settlement or jury award, once the case is resolved.

You will want to consult another lawyer, prior to firing your attorney, who will often suggest you attempt to work out the issues you are unhappy with. If you decide it is best to hire a new attorney, they should work out the details of the fees you may owe the attorney you fired.

Does the Attorney Who Represented Me have to Represent Me, if I want to Appeal My Case?

This is dependent on the retainer agreement, whether it requires your lawyer to take on the appeal. Usually the lawyer will only be representing you on the issues outlined in your retainer agreement. This will mean that once there has been a judgment entered in your case, the lawyer has no other responsibilities to represent your case or appeal.

What if there is a Dispute Between My Attorney and Me?

Many state bars offer dispute resolution services, in the event there are issues between you and your lawyer. They can help in the event of fee disputes or if you believe your attorney has acted in an unethical manner. Every state has a grievance procedure, where a complaint can be filed against your lawyer and your complaint will be investigated.