Hiring the right personal injury attorney to represent you is critical and can literally make or break your case. When meeting with an attorney for the first time, there are a lot of questions that need to be asked to decipher if an attorney is a viable fit for your case, and for you personally.
The following are the top ten questions that should be discussed in your first meeting with a personal injury lawyer:
1. How many years have you practiced law, specifically personal injury?
Your prospective personal injury attorney should not be a novice, but a trained, seasoned professional. Younger attorneys, although they may be used to perform some of the work on your case, should not be given full case-management authority until they have a little more experience under their belt.
2. Have you taken cases like mine to trial or settlement, and if so, how many?
An experienced personal injury attorney will have taken several cases like yours to trial and/or settlement. This answer is an indicator of the prospective attorney’s skill and success rate.
3. How much of your practice focuses on personal injury cases like mine?
A personal injury attorney should focus a majority of his or her time on the subject matter involved in your case. While an attorney who practices generally, like a family doctor practices generally, can be a very good attorney, it is important the attorney is competent to represent you in your particular matter.
4. Will you use other attorneys or paralegals on my case?
Other attorneys and paralegals are often used to perform important tasks, but should play a limited role. It is important that you ask to meet them and use your own personal judgment to evaluate them. Even though the subject matter and law governing your case might be unfamiliar to you, you should not discount your ability to size-up potential legal staff.
5. What is your policy regarding returning my phone calls?
The most frequent complaint of clients is unreturned phone calls. Your attorney should have a 24-hour turnaround on client phone calls, taking into consideration unforeseeable circumstances. It’s a good idea to have this policy written into your retainer agreement with your attorney to ensure compliance.
6. Will you explain to me all of the court procedures, legal concepts, fee arrangements, billing practices, retainer agreements, and payments of costs?
These questions are often time-consuming, but very important. Your attorney should explain to you, in detail, all of the above matters thoroughly.
7. What is your method or strategy for handling cases like mine?
An experienced personal injury attorney should have a streamlined process for “working-up” cases like yours. The level of detail contained in the attorney’s process will demonstrate his or her organization skills and familiarity with the subject matter and law of your case.
8. What is the likelihood of a quick settlement or trial?
Beware of the attorney who promises a quick settlement or trial! However, your attorney should be able to provide a well-reasoned estimate of the time necessary to reach disposition of your case.
9. Do I even have a case? And if so, what do you think my chances are for receiving a settlement?
An experienced attorney should be able to inform you if your case is worth pursuing and/or if there exists a possibility of recovery. Sometimes people are hurt, injured, or suffer injustice and there is no legal remedy. A good attorney will provide you with his or her strategy for your case, explaining the steps they will take and the likelihood of your success at trial or settlement.
10. Do you have a policy of professional liability insurance?
Like doctors, all attorneys, personal injury or otherwise, should maintain a malpractice insurance policy in the event that mistakes occur on your case.
A final note: No attorney can guarantee a particular outcome. Also, if your case presents a new area of law or a type of wrongdoing that hasn't been settled by the courts in the past, then it may be difficult to find an attorney with unique specialization in the area. One of the most important things to look for in an attorney, besides competency to handle the matter, is whether or not you believe you can work effectively with the lawyer. The relationship, and your "gut" feeling, will probably be an important part of the hiring process.