Choosing the right personal injury attorney is one of your most important decisions if you’ve been injured due to someone else’s negligence or wrongdoing. While it is helpful to seek referrals from family, friends or colleagues, it is critical to do your own research to find a lawyer who shares your personal values and will best represent your interests.
Most personal injury attorneys offer a free initial consultation. This is an important time for you to ask questions and evaluate whether the attorney is the right one.
Here are 17 questions to ask a personal injury lawyer during your initial consultation.
1. Have You Handled This Type of Case Before – and How Did It End?
If you have been injured in a pedestrian accident, for example, you want a lawyer who has experience handling similar pedestrian accident cases. Don’t be satisfied with simple “yes” or “no” answers. Ask about specific outcomes. What verdicts and settlements did the lawyer obtain?
2. Have You Handled These Types of Cases in Local Courts?
It is important to know if s/he is familiar with the judges and in the courts where your case will be heard. For example, what do juries in a certain area tend to focus on, or what types of cases are typically successful in those local courts? Your lawyer needs to have the experience to provide you the best counsel and guidance.
3. Do You Have Trial Experience?
Most personal injury cases are settled out of court, but a percentage of these cases do go to a jury trial. The attorney you retain must be both a skilled negotiator who can obtain the best possible settlement and an experienced trial lawyer who can prevail if it becomes necessary to litigate.
4. Has the Attorney Been Accused of Misconduct?
You want a lawyer who will represent you with integrity. You have a right to know if the attorney you are about to hire has violated, or been accused of violating, the law or standards of professional behavior. Go to your state’s legal licensing authority’s website. For California, it’s calbar.org. Enter the attorney’s name to discover if s/he has been disciplined for or accused of unprofessional conduct or ethical violations.
5. Do You Have Any Conflicts of Interest When It Comes to My Case?
Lawyers have an ethical duty to inform you regarding any conflict of interest they may have regarding your case. For example, if the lawyer is doing business with the defendant in your case, that would amount to conflict of interest. Not all conflicts are deal breakers, but it is important that you are aware of any conflict before you retain the lawyer. You want someone who is entirely and unequivocally on your side.
6. What Is Your Evaluation of My Personal Injury Case?
This is probably the most important part of your first consultation. Your lawyer should give you an honest and detailed evaluation of how your personal injury case is likely to play out, based on the facts and information you provide. However, even the most competent and successful lawyer cannot guarantee a result, because there are so many variables and unknowns, especially at the outset.
7. What Are the Strengths and Weaknesses of My Case?
Your lawyer should be able to explain the strengths and weaknesses of your case. If you were involved in a slip-and-fall case and have surveillance video that shows the incident, that is extremely strong evidence that may help settle your case quickly. On the other hand, if you have no photos, videos or eyewitnesses, your attorney might have to work with you to establish what occurred. Either way, it would help you greatly to know where you stand.
8. What Is My Case Worth?
While your attorney cannot guarantee how much your compensation amount will be, s/he will be able to give you an estimate based on the facts and information you have so far. Typically, the more serious your injuries, the greater the value or worth of your case. For example, if a serious spinal injury has caused you to become paralyzed, your case may be worth millions of dollars. However, if you’ve suffered minor injuries that required minimal treatment or recovery, your case might not be worth as much.
Most cases lie somewhere in between. Factors that may determine what your case is worth include: medical expenses, the wages lost, and the physical pain and mental distress you suffered because of the incident and the injury.
Another factor that can play a part in the value or worth of your case is the degree of negligence on the part of the defendant. For example, if you were injured by a defective auto part or a faulty product that the manufacturer knew about or should have known was dangerous, then your damages and compensation will be significantly greater.
9. What Approach Would You Adopt in My Case?
Ask the attorney what strategy he or she proposes in your case. For example, does he think you should file a product liability claim as well as a personal injury claim? Does she believe you have a third-party claim in your workplace injury case? Ask your lawyer how they plan to handle the case and have them explain why they chose that strategy. Your lawyer should also explain the positives and negatives of adopting a certain strategy and present you with a few options on how to proceed.
10. Will I Need to Sign a Contract?
Ask the lawyer if you will need to sign a retainer (a contract that specifies the work for which you are retaining the attorney), and what your fee and payment requirements are. If the attorney is working on a contingency fee basis, that should be specified in the contract.
11. What Fees Will I Have to Pay?
This is important information. Ask your lawyer what he or she will charge you for legal representation. It might be a fixed amount or an hourly rate. However, in most personal injury cases, lawyers work on what is known as a “contingency fee” basis. This means that the attorney is paid a percentage of the amount you receive as part of a settlement or jury award. Typically, it is one-third of the settlement or award amount.
When you talk about attorney fees, be sure to discuss expenses. Will the lawyer pay for any number of expenses that might arise, such as photocopying documents, filing fees, or costly items, such as paying expert witnesses?
12. How Long Will It Take for My Case to Be Resolved?
This is a tricky question, but you need to ask it. The answer will likely depend on the nature and complexity of your case. Your lawyer should give you a rough estimate of how long it might take for your case to be resolved. However, bear in mind that your attorney will have no control over how quickly the process unfolds and cannot offer any guarantees.
13. Is Going to Trial the Only Way, or Do I Have Options?
As mentioned earlier, most personal injury cases are settled out of court, which means they never go to trial. Your lawyer should go over the possibility of negotiating a resolution prior to trial. In some cases, your lawyer may propose mediation or a settlement negotiation process that might involve an impartial third party. In very few cases, arbitration might be an option.
14. Who Will Be Doing the Work on My Case?
Most law firms employ paralegals and junior associates. It is important you understand who will be handling your case and to what degree. Your attorney might delegate routine jobs to paralegals or other associates. However, it is important to ask your attorney if he or she will be involved in making critical decisions regarding your case. If you are not comfortable with who is handling your case, you should probably look for another law firm.
15. How Will My Attorney and His or Her Staff Communicate With Me?
You should feel comfortable that your attorney will keep you informed throughout the process. You should not be left wondering what’s happening with your case or be left in a state of panic about anything. Your attorney should give you clear information about who is handling your case file, including names and contact information. During your consultation, the lawyer should tell you how often s/he will update you regarding the case. You should also be able to communicate with the lawyer directly when you need to do so. Ask the lawyer if that will be possible.
16. Do I Have a Role in Case Preparation? What Is It?
It is crucial that you find out what you can do to help your attorney. You should provide your lawyer with all the documents and facts you have: photos or video from an accident scene, or receipts, invoices, or documents regarding medication, treatments, or doctor’s office visits. Your lawyer can then use all this information to bolster your case and maximize your chances of receiving fair compensation for your losses.
17. Are There Some Things I Shouldn’t Do?
In addition to asking what you should do, it is also important to ask your lawyer what you should not do. Personal injury law is complex, and the claim process can be tricky. There are some important pitfalls you should avoid; for example, most lawyers will tell you not to talk to insurance companies or the counsel for other parties without them (your lawyer) present on your side. Any comments you make will be recorded and may be used against you.
Your lawyer will also advise you not to make any comments about your case or post photos or videos on social media sites or online, or even to suspend your accounts or stop using them until after your case is resolved. It is very important that you follow your lawyer’s advice and instructions in this regard.
Retaining a skilled, experienced and knowledgeable personal injury lawyer can have a huge impact on your case. The quality of the law firm and the competence of the attorney you hire can make or break your case. At TorkLaw, we are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to answer all of your questions and schedule a free, no-obligation consultation that will help you choose the right attorney for you. You can send us a message online, or give us a call at 888.845.9696.