If you have been injured in an accident, you may not actually need a lawyer. But, if you find that dealing with the claim on your own is too overwhelming, you’ll probably want to at least consult with a nationally board-certified personal injury attorney in your area.
How can you tell the difference between an experienced and able personal injury attorney and a “generalist” who also “handles” car accident cases?
Here are some tips:
CALL AND ASK FOR WRITTEN INFORMATION. Don’t agree to a “free consultation” without knowing who you are meeting. Usually, there is no rush with a personal injury claim. While each state is different, most states give you anywhere from six months (to assert a claim against a governmental agency or city) to several years to file your claim. So when calling a lawyer’s office, ask them to send you their “information package on YOUR TYPE OF case.” Ask them to include anything you should read that would convince you to hire them as your attorneys. If they say, “The only way to get this information is to come in,” all you have to do is hang up. Just like buying a high-priced consumer product, you are usually better off doing all of your initial research in the comfort of your own home. You don’t want to be subjected to any high pressure sales tactics, do you?
BEWARE OF ANY LAWYER WHO PHONES YOU FIRST. And beware of a lawyer who has someone else directly solicit you in person after you have been injured. Did someone show up in an emergency room and offer to hook you up with a lawyer? Run. This is illegal in most states. In-person solicitation by a lawyer (or someone representing a law firm) who does not have a prior relationship with you is universally condemned. Some lawyers may contact you by mail after you have been in an accident. No problem with that. You can just throw the letters away if you want.
After you have done your preliminary homework, NARROW YOUR SEARCH TO THREE TO FIVE LAWYERS who appear to be experienced with your legal problem. Make an appointment to interview them. There is no substitute for an in-person interview. No matter how experienced or successful a lawyer is, you must feel comfortable with them. You have to trust them. Many will agree to meet you in your home if you cannot travel to the office.
Now that you have arranged an in-person interview, ASK THE RIGHT QUESTIONS if you are looking for a personal injury or medical malpractice attorney. Remember, the best and most experienced attorneys usually have a line of people begging to hire them. They are usually very selective in choosing the types of cases they will handle. These attorneys will not be insulted or put off by your questions but rather they will welcome them, because it shows you are taking steps to educate yourself.
A sample of important questions to ask:
1. Do you have actual experience handling my type of case?
2. Where can I read about your other cases?
3. Have you won any large verdicts or settlements? 4. Are you board certified by any state or nationally recognized organizations?
5. Do you carry malpractice insurance?
6. Have you been disciplined by your state bar association?
7. Who in your office will be working on my case?
8. What is my case worth?
9. Do you represent any insurance companies at all? (You really need to know where their interests lie. Some lawyers do most of their work for the insurance companies. This may suit you just fine. For others, the appearance of bias would be too much.)
10. Can I take a copy of the written fee agreement home with me to study? (There is no “standard” fee and no standard fee agreement. Do not assume that if you have seen one, you have seen them all.)
And the best question of all: Who else should be on my list of attorneys to consider? This is a great question because the names you see coming up time and time again are as close to a “sure bet” to be the right lawyer as you can get!
All good, competent, honest attorneys will freely share their information with you. These attorneys have as much (or more) work than they can handle. If they won’t give you any other names, then leave! It may be a huge warning sign that they are starving for business-?not a good sign.
Remember, don’t panic and impulsively choose a lawyer without carefully doing your homework. There is no subsitute for taking the time up front to ensure you get the right lawyer for your case.
Copyright (c) 2009 Benjamin Glass