Choosing a personal injury attorney
You were injured and/or lost someone you love. You believe it may have been someone else’s fault, but you know everything about your life has changed. You don’t know how to deal with insurance companies, don’t understand what bills are covered and to what you are entitled to receive. You don’t want more than to what you are entitled, but know you and your family deserve fair and full compensation for your losses and right now the losses and bills are piling up. You need to focus your attention on healing, and right now you need help gathering information, dealing with the insurance companies, getting the right treatment and making sure your job is protected while you are off work recovering. You need to trust someone to evaluate your past losses and make sure you receive the full amount of compensation to which you are entitled to protect you and your family’s future. You will know when it is time to consult with a lawyer. If you are reading this, it is probably already that time. So the question becomes, how do you choose a lawyer.
Here are some things to consider:
- This is one of the most difficult times in your life, and you need to be able to trust the attorney who will be fighting for your justice. All attorneys have a legal obligation to protect their client’s best interest, but it is important that you find the lawyer best suited to protect, serve and aggressively pursue your interests.
- Start with finding an attorney who specializes in personal injury litigation. There are small group of lawyers who specialize in representing families who have suffered losses as a result of someone else’s wrongful conduct. These lawyers are called personal injury or consumer lawyers and take their cases on a contingency fee so that injured parties do not have to pay for their services until the case has resolved. These lawyers assist injured parties through the maze of medical bills, disability issues and spend time getting to know the families so their losses can be fully evaluated. Often times they are members of consumer attorney organizations where they seek education regarding issues related to their type of cases. These organizations in Central California include Consumer Attorneys of California (CAOC) and Central California Trial Lawyers Association. The more experienced personal injury lawyers may also be invited to be members of special associations which recognize their expertise and ethical standards such as American Board of Trial Advocates (ABOTA), American College of Trial Lawyers or Super Lawyers. You should first find a personal injury lawyer who is a member of CAOC , and then you can look for their awards or invitations into the other groups, which recognize all types of lawyers, not just personal injury specialist.
- Once you find a lawyer or three who seem qualified, look at their websites and ask around. Schedule an appointment to meet with a lawyer. Trustworthy plaintiff lawyers never charge for the first consultation and certainly do not rush you to make a decision.
- Ask about their philosophy for handling personal injury cases. How much time will they personally spend with you. Will they help you with medical bills and disability claims? Will they handle everything, or are they expecting you to go gather all of your own records?
- Ask about the attorney’s trial experience. You need an attorney who has the time, financial back and willingness to go to trial, not because you want your case to go to trial, but because you need an attorney who has the respect of other trial attorneys, and who has an established reputation with the defendant’s insurance company. It is very unlikely you can receive full compensation for your case, if the at fault party’s insurance company does not fully understand your attorney will spend the time and money necessary to take the case to trial if full settlement value is not offered.
- Ask if the attorney has the financial wherewithal to fund your case. Trustworthy attorneys finance out of their own pockets the cost of litigation and you need your attorney to have the funds available so they don’t want to settle just because they cannot afford trial. Ask for an estimate of the costs in your case. Experts in a surgery case can cost $10,000-$15,000, accident reconstructionists can be $20,000+ depending on the complexity of the accident, products liability and medical malpractice cases require numerous experts. Even the most simple personal injury trial will often cost $10,000 or more.
- Ask about the attorney’s settlement and trial record. Ask them to explain why they believe they are able to maximize the full potential of their clients cases. Ask if you can speak to one or more of their clients.
- Do you have a case of full liability (someone ran a red light, drunk driver..) and the at fault party is insured? If so, you will have no problem finding an attorney to take the case. (An attorney usually receives 25%-40%, so in easy full liability cases, the lawyer is guaranteed to make a fee. The question in full liability/with insurance cases isn’t whether the lawyer will take the case, the questions are whether you even need a lawyer and if so, is this the lawyer who is right for you. A trustworthy lawyer will tell you if they think you may be able to handle an easy case on your own, rather than just sign you up.
- Do you like and respect this attorney and are you willing to allow them to become a very important part of your life? Before you sign an attorney fee agreement, you should feel that you have found the right attorney for your case. You should feel they care about you, your family and your case. We fight hardest for those we care about. Caring counts. Remember this is the attorney who will be guiding you and making recommendations about things which will influence the quality of the rest of your life. You need to feel you are with the right lawyer, if not keep looking.
Your choice of an attorney to represent you in court is the difference between success and failure. It makes a huge difference in the ultimate award or settlement that you will receive. Following these suggestions will lead you to the best possible result in your case.