If you got hurt in an auto accident that was not your fault, and you are considering retaining a personal injury attorney, here are seven questions you might ask.
How do you get paid?
Most personal injury attorneys handle a case based upon a “contingency fee” where the attorney gets paid for their time and effort by a percentage of the gross recovery they achieve. If the law firm obtains money for their client, they get a percentage of that money for their efforts. The percentages can vary. So can case expense agreements.
Law firms typically allow for reimbursement of their out-of-pocket expenses out of the client share of any recovery. The out-of-pocket expenditures of the attorney do not come out of the attorney’s fees. An injury victim should ask about the percentages and expense provisions of any fee agreement. Fees and expenses can vary depending on the law firm and the type of claim.
- How often like this have you handled this type of case in the past?
If the case is severe, this is a fundamental question to ask. And if the case involves a niche area of practice such as an attorney for a commercial truck accident or dangerous product case, the track record of the attorney with similar cases is an excellent gauge on their experience. Should your case not be that serious, this question might not be critically important to ask?
The more serious the injury or damages, the more critical it is that you pick an experienced attorney.
- Do you handle cases other than personal injury?
Again, if you are not hurt badly, it may not make much difference whether you have the most experienced personal injury attorney or one who just dabbles in cases that come in the office. But to the extent you have a severe injury, looking for a lawyer who handles only personal injury, preferably in the niche practice, is an important consideration.
- How many open cases do you have now?
Whether you will be dealing with the attorney, an associate attorney, a paralegal, or another employee of the law firm is a critical factor for your case.
If an attorney is too busy to answer your questions, you can make good assumptions about how it will go with your case. Some attorneys handle upwards of 100 cases and any one time. If the attorney you are considering has many open files, it may be impossible to get individual attention. Look for a leading personal injury law firm that offers individual attention and does not maintain a volume practice.
- Are you peer-review ranked?
An excellent indicator of the legal ability and the ethical standards of the lawyer you are talking with to represent you in a severe injury matter is whether they have been peer review rated.
While many rating agencies give “awards,” many of those are based upon a financial relationship with the company. Although the award sounds fantastic, a deeper look indicates that the awards go to people who do business with that company.
In short, it is a marketing gimmick. There is, however, a reliable peer-reviewed alternative where other attorneys in a blind sample rate the law firm. These ratings are not based upon a financial relationship with the company and therefore have much more credibility.
- How long have you been practicing personal injury law?
Experience matters! Just as the track record of success is an essential consideration for a personal injury victim. It is important to know how long they’ve been practicing in personal injury is an important consideration. You do not want someone learning on the job with your case.
- Will you be doing the work on my case or some other attorney or staff?
Larger law firms will almost always put forth their named partners to initially meet with victims. However, after the case is signed up, an associate or paralegal will be the one doing the work that matters to develop the case. The one who does the work does impact the settlement value of a case.
Knowing up front who will do the work, and if you can speak to the lawyer you hire about your case or whether your communications will all go through others should be a vital consideration.
Not that communications with non-lawyer staff or associate attorneys are undesirable, only that a potential injury victim should probably ask the question up front, or they be surprised when they can get the attorney on the telephone. Or they end up with another attorney within the law firm working on their case.