You Need a Personal Injury Lawyer, Now What
Whether you or a loved one experienced an injury through negligence, safety issues, or bad luck, leaving the settlement up to the insurance company may not always be to your advantage. A personal injury lawyer has goals similar to yours—they want to maximize compensation you receive because a higher compensation for you means a higher fee for them.
If you have a legitimate claim for compensation for damages you’ve suffered, partnering with a personal injury lawyer makes sense. These lawyers trained to understand your situation, have experience dealing with insurance companies and their lawyers, and are backed with a team and financial resources needed to support your claim for the length of time needed to settle.
Just like medicine with its many specialties, law also breaks down into a variety of subdivisions. Personal injury lawyers assess your injuries and potential impact on your life; they understand that your case may change as your condition progresses after an accident. Hiring the right lawyer who specializes in your particular injury—whether auto, workman’s comp, product liability, or wrongful death—is critical to achieving a better outcome.
Identify Your Needs
Most personal injury lawyers handle straightforward cases, but if you’ve had in a serious accident, suffered a critical injury, or lost a loved one to death, you’ll want to find a highly-experienced attorney with a strong track record.
Why? Insurance companies take a personal injury attorney’s track record into account when they decide what to offer as settlement. If your attorney settles more out of court rather than going to trial, the final offer may be significantly less.
Make sure that you know the facts of your own case. Write down everything in as much detail as possible. Bring documentation to the initial consults you schedule with each potential lawyer with whom you may contract.
Here’s a handy checklist of the type of documentation that lawyers will also find helpful when they evaluate your case:
- Medical documents, bills, diagnoses, and test results
- Professional opinions from experts in the field – like crash site reconstructions, if relevant
- Written statements from witnesses, if relevant
- Pictures of the accident, if relevant
- Arrest records, issued citations, or toxicology results, if relevant
Conduct Your Own Due Diligence
You’ve identified the specialty with which your personal injury lawyer must be familiar. Finding a perfect match requires additional research as well as in-person meetings or consultations. The internet is a great resource to start looking. To focus your search, make a list of factors key to choosing a good personal injury lawyer:
- The location and licensure in the state in which your injury occured
- The focus of the lawyer’s practice (i.e., were you injured as a result of product defectiveness, medical negligence, an automobile accident, etc.)
- His or her reputation and years in practice, trial experience and record
- His or her disciplinary record—has the lawyer been disciplined, suspended, disbarred by ethics committees or state bar associations?
- Whether there a fee is charged for the initial consultation
- The lawyer’s reputation (Look for feedback from past clients or colleagues.)
- The lawyer’s negotiation record. (About 95% of personal injury lawsuits wills settle before trial, so it’s vital that your lawyer has good negotiation skills. If the majority of cases a personal injury attorney handles goes to trial, it may be a warning sign that the lawyer is not a good negotiator, which means the final decision may take longer to reach and cost more.)
You’ll yield the most effective results from a search by typing in certain keywords into Google. For example, if you want a medical malpractice attorney, type “medical malpractice attorney + New Jersey” to narrow results. To narrow even further, add your town to the search. You can also visit specific attorney websites, lawyers.com, nolo.com, and findlaw.com, which connect clients to attorneys.
As you narrow your search, you can also visit the new jersey state bar association (www.njsba.com). The site offers a lawyer referral service organized by county bar associations (https://tcms.njsba.com/personifyebusiness/LegalResources/CountyBarAssociations.aspx).
Schedule a Consultation with Each Candidate
Once you’ve researched each personal injury lawyer on your list, narrow to your top three to five lawyers because you’ll want to meet with each one before you decide whom to hire.
Prior to meeting each candidate, create a list of questions to ask. These questions will help you identify whether they’re qualified to work on your case and their level of interest in adding your case to their load.
You might not want or need to ask all of these questions, but the more thorough your list, the more information you’ll have to make the best choice that’s right for you.
- What’s the statute of limitations on my case?
- What are your areas of specialization (Ideally, you’ll already know the answer to this question before you meet. However, if you’re considering a larger firm with lawyers that have multiple specialties, it’s not an unreasonable question to ask.)
- Will anyone else work on my case? (Again, a good question to ask when you’re considering a larger firm.)
- What is your fee structure? Do you work on a contingency fee and if so, what is your percentage? If not, what is your hourly rate? (A contingent fee means that you don’t have to provide any money up front. The lawyer covers all the costs until you reach a settlement and then takes the fee from that settlement. The usual percentage is 1/3 of the total amount.)
- Am I responsible for court costs? (In some cases, even if you lose the case and have a contingent fee attorney, you may still hold financial responsibility for court costs and fees, so ask up front before you sign a contract.)
- Have you taken cases like mine before? If so, how many, and what were their outcomes?
- How comfortable are you in taking my case? Do you think I have a good case? Why or why not?
- If you don’t feel comfortable taking my case, can you tell me why not and whether you’d recommend someone else?
- Will you follow my wishes on how I want to proceed?
- How often do you communicate updates on a case’s progress? How will you keep me informed?
- If I’m not satisfied with the insurance company’s offer, will you, personally, file a lawsuit on my behalf and take my case to trial?
- Will you please provide me with references or testimonials from past clients?
- Will you be able to fully account for all settlement funds?
You’ve conducted your research. You’ve met with several lawyers, and now it’s time to decide whom to hire. If you’ve narrowed down your list to two lawyers, and each appears a viable choice, think about other intangibles that may influence your decision.
Personality. Often overlooked, however it’s critical. You want a connection with your attorney and have that confidence that your questions will be answered and concerns addressed. When you had that first meeting, did you feel a positive connection? Was the lawyer 100% focused on you or distracted? Did they treat you with dignity and respect, as an individual with specific, unique needs? Did the attorney exude common sense? Can you relate to him or her?
Office atmosphere. How was the staff you met? Did they treat you courteously? Were you taken seriously? Did the office seem clean and organized?
It’s important to find the right personal injury attorney who is qualified to handle your personal injury claim and committed to keeping your best interests in mind. When you find this connection, you’ll have a much more productive relationship.