17 Things to Know Before Hiring a Personal Injury lawyer

Cleint meets with personal injury lawyer

Just because a lawyer has a law degree doesn’t mean they’re the best lawyer for your injury case.

Depending on the seriousness of your case, there is some information you should get as well as understand before hiring an attorney.

Here’s some key information for you to ask a lawyer as well as to understand before looking for an injury lawyer.

1. Have they done injury trials recently?  With a jury?

Lawyer talking to a jury in personal injury trial

This actually may or may not matter, depending on the size of your matter.  If you have a minor case, you can’t expect a senior, experienced top-notch litigator to take on your case.  They focus on big cases.

It’s perfectly okay to hire a more junior lawyer to handle your matter if it’s not terribly serious.

On the flip side, if you have serious injuries, you need to know that the lawyer you hire has extensive trial experience, including trials with a jury with good outcomes.  Personal injury lawyers who succeed with juries have the most leverage with insurers.  Insurers know which lawyers will go to trial and those who settle everything.

I’m not saying you should expect your matter to go to trial.  Chances are it won’t, but you still want a lawyer who insurers know can and will go to trial if necessary.to get you the damages you deserve.

2. Do they have experience with your type of injury case?

First, you want to ensure your lawyer primarily handles injury cases so that they are experienced in that area of law.

If your matter is a car accident case without serious injuries, you don’t need an attorney with any extensive focus on specific types of injury cases.

However, if you have a brain injury or your matter is a medical malpractice matter or has some other unique aspect to it, you need to hire a lawyer with that specific experience.  Some cases require additional experience that not all lawyers have.

3. Who will primarily handle your case?

Most people start the hiring process by meeting with an injury lawyer for a free consultation.  If you choose to hire that lawyer or firm, that does not necessarily mean that the lawyer you meet with will handle your matter.

It may go to another lawyer in the firm.

In some cases it may go to another firm.  Some lawyers are more marketing agencies than practicing lawyers.

It doesn’t necessarily matter that another lawyer will be the primary attorney on the matter, but it is good know up front.  All it takes is asking at the free consultation who will be the lead lawyer on the case.

4. Are there any fees and/or disbursements to be paid up front?

Most injury lawyers charge by way of a contingency fee.  A contingency fee is where the lawyer is paid a percentage of the money you get.  This is actually a very good arrangement for both lawyer and client.  It’s good for the client because it spares them from having to pay up front (most people don’t have that kind of money).  It also results in both lawyer and client having the same interest in the outcome (i.e. obtain the most money possible).

It’s good for the lawyer because their remuneration is based on results.  If the lawyer does a good job and obtains a good outcome, they are well compensated.

What you need to ensure though, is whether the lawyer wants you to fund any disbursements or other costs up front.  It’s not necessarily bad to have to do this (sometimes there’s too much risk so the lawyer will require this), but either way, it’s good to know the financial responsibilities of both parties up front.

5. If a contingency, what is the contingency fee percentage?

You definitely want to know what the contingency fee structure is.  Many jurisdictions have laws that cap the percentage a lawyer may charge.  Either way, you should know what the fee percentage is so that it’s not a surprise down the road.

6. Are there any fees and/or disbursements owing if the case is lost?

This is very important.  Lawyers will spend money to build your case.  These expenses are called disbursements.  They can add up to tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars.

You need to know whether you are responsible for those if the case doesn’t work out.

Likewise, you need to know if you’ll owe legal fees for the lawyer’s time in the event the case doesn’t work out well.

7. Does the lawyer also work for insurance companies?

Some injury lawyers represent both injuried victims and defend cases for insurance companies.

I’m not saying you should avoid lawyers who work both sides, but you should know if they do so you can make an informed decision.  You will have to ask because they are not obligated to tell you.

It’s not inconceivable that a lawyer who works both sides does work for the insurance company involved in your case (i.e. insures the negligent party).

Most lawyers (almost all) are professionals and will advance your case to the best of their ability even if they work for insurance companies.  They have an obligation to do so and pretty much all lawyers take that obligation seriously.

Nevertheless, it’s good to know the situation.

8. How does the lawyer like to communicate? Does it work with your preferred communication method?

It’s important that you get and understand communications from your lawyer.  If you prefer email, tell your lawyer that you do so that they can send you information that way.  If you prefer physical letters, say so.  If you prefer discussing matters in person or on the phone, again, say so.

Most lawyers will accommodate you because they understand it’s important you know what’s going on and understand what’s going on.

9. The first consultation should be free

Free consultation sign for injury lawyer

For injury cases, you should have no problem finding lawyers who will meet with you to discuss the case for a free consultation.  This typically applies only to injury law.  In other areas of law, such as family lawy, don’t be surprised if you need to pay a consultation fee.

Why are they free for personal injury matters but not other legal matters?

The reason is that most people who have an injury claim and who meet with a lawyer do hire a lawyer if there’s a case.  In fact, most hire the lawyer with whom they have the consultation.  This means for injury lawyers it’s worth their time to meet with prospective clients for free.

For divorce matters (and other matters), many people don’t necessarily hire a lawyer because they have to pay money up front to do so.  This means if a divorce lawyer offers a free consultation, they could spend many hours with prospective clients each month and not get paid for that time.

10. You’re under no obligation to hire a lawyer, even if you take them up on a free consultation

Just because you meet a lawyer for a free consultation, doesn’t mean you’re under an obligation to hire them.  You can shop around and get a few opinions.  This is perfectly normal.

11. You can switch lawyers after you hire them

I’m not suggesting that you count on firing your lawyer.  This should only be done if there’s a serious problem or you lose confidence in them. However, even if you sign a contingency fee agreement, you can switch lawyers.

Keep in mind though that the contingency fee agreement likely includes provisions that they’ll be paid for the work they’ve done in the event you fire them.  The best thing to do if you need to switch lawyers is to consult another lawyer before doing anything.  Bring a copy of the contingency fee agreement so the new lawyer can see how your first lawyer is to be remunerated in the event you fire them.

The reason the new lawyer needs to know is the first lawyer will likely be paid out of the damages/settlement you receive and so the new lawyer wants to ensure that the case is still worth taking on.

12. Contingency fees may seem like excessive remuneration, but keep this in mind

30% contingency fees are not unusual.  They can be as high as 50% or even higher in some jurisdictions.

This might seem ridiculously high to you, especially if you have a big case.  30% of $500,000 is $150,000.

Yes, it’s true contingency fees can result in high fees for lawyers, but keep in mind the following:

  • Lawyers take on some risk:  Because lawyers only earn fees in the event you receive money, lawyers take on risk with their time and can end up working for nothing.
  • Lawyers finance the case (more risk):  Many lawyers also finance expenses to build the case and even pay for treatment.  This means lawyers not only risk their time, but also their money.  Risk means there should be a potentially high reward.  Most injury lawyers have had cases go bad where they ended up working for nothing and/or lost money.  The good cases offset the bad ones.
  • Most people wouldn’t be able to hire a lawyer if it weren’t for contingency fees:  Because lawyers are willing to take on cases via contingency, far more people can hire a lawyer.  Lawyers pretty much take on the lion’s share of the risk.
  • Interests are aligned:  Because lawyers are a paid a percentage of the amount they get for you, it’s good knowing that they want the same outcome, which is as much money as possible.

13. Just because they advertise a lot doesn’t mean they’re the best (or the worst)

Some injury lawyers are very good marketers.  They attract a lot of clients, but just because a lawyer is very good at marketing and does a lot of it doesn’t mean they’re the best for the case.

It also doesn’t mean they’re bad.  They can also be very good.

My point is don’t have any preconception about any particular lawyer based on marketing or lack thereof.

The key is that you hire a competent lawyer for YOUR matter.  If it’s a very small case, it’s okay to have a more junior lawyer on it.  If it’s a serious matter, you want to ensure the lawyer you hire has experience with that type of case including going to trial.

14. No lawyer can guarantee an outcome

At no point no lawyer can tell you what will happen with the case.  They can speculate or give you their best advice, but they can’t guarantee anything.  For example, they can’t guarantee that you’ll get such and such amount of money or that your case will be concluded by such and such a date.  Even if a trial is scheduled, sometimes trials are rescheduled or it could be appealed after trial.

15. Your case has a deadline

A lot of people don’t know this, but in most jurisdictions there’s a deadline with your case.  If you don’t start your action before that deadline, you could very well (very likely) get nothing because you no longer have a case.

If you’re hurt, you must talk to a lawyer as soon as possible.  If you want the lawyer to monitor the deadline, you will need to formally hire them.

16. You can’t sue for damages in all jurisdictions

In the USA and Canada, there are some states and provinces that are no-fault, which means you may not be able to sue.  Chances are you don’t know which jurisdictions have no-fault, so it’s best to talk to a lawyer.

17. Don’t be surprised if support staff communicates with you

There are a lot of routine steps and communications with personal injury matters that legal secretaries and paralegals handle.  Don’t be surprised or think your lawyer is shuffling your matter off if you get calls, emails and letters from their legal secretaries and paralegals.  They help tremendously to keep the case going and to advance your case.  It’s normal.

Questions a personal injury lawyer cannot answer

The following are questions many prospective clients as but no lawyer can answer.  So don’t be put off if you ask these questions but they tell you that they don’t know.  In fact, it would be unethical for them to answer these questions.

How much money you’ll get

No lawyer can predict the future.  Just because a lawyer achieved great outcomes in the past doesn’t mean your case will end up the same.  No lawyer can guarantee a set amount of money from an injury case.  All they can tell you is examples of other cases but they must make clear that each case is different and that other cases do not predict outcomes in other cases (including your case).

When your case will be finished

Some cases wrap up quickly. Some drag on for years.  No lawyer will know and cannot tell you when it will conclude.

Whether you will go to trial or not

This is yet another outcome-based question.  At the end of the day you control whether the matter goes to trial.  A lawyer needs their client’s consent to proceed to trial.  You largely control this by whether you accept an offer from the defendant (wrongdoer).

If the wrongdoer (i.e. their insurance company) offers you nothing, you still decide whether you want to go to trial or not.  You don’t have to, but then you end up with nothing.

Whether you’ll win at trial

Again, no lawyer can guarantee how a trial will end up.

Don’t be intimidated to consult/hire a lawyer

If you’re injured, it’s worth consulting a lawyer as soon as you can.  Even if it’s minor.  Don’t expect insurance companies to look out for your best interests.  They don’t want to pay out money.

You are not inconveniencing a lawyer by meeting with them.  That’s what they do.  Most are nice and will give you plenty of useful information during the consultation.

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