How do you find a good lawyer for a serious personal injury lawsuit?
Anytime a person gets injured as a result of someone else’s negligence, many decisions come up in how to deal with the legal and healthcare issues. One of the important decisions is finding the best lawyer to represent you. At times it is the key decision that determines the outcome of your case. It is your lawyer’s skill and knowledge that makes sure you receive fair compensation under the law.
All lawyers are NOT the same.
And most people have no connections to quality, successful personal injury attorneys. Nor do they understand that quality representation costs no more than the amount charged by the inexperienced lawyers who don’t understand injury law or have any history trying injury lawsuits.
Please, Please, Please, don’t make the mistake of choosing a personal injury lawyer from advertising alone. There is a reason that “high-volume” lawyers or “TV-Lawyers” get a bad reputation. Some of them will just settle your case quickly for whatever the insurance company offers.
So the way you find a good lawyer is: A little investigation.
First, Look at Sources that Rate Personal Injury Lawyers.
A. Peer Review
Lawyers with good peer review ratings will display them on their websites.
While there is no “official” rating system, peer review systems where other lawyers both colleagues and competitors do the rating provide a good indication of the lawyers competence. The oldest and best known and respected among the legal profession is probably the Martindale-Hubbell Bar Registry (www.martindale.com). It has ratings of more than 1 million lawyers across the country. It offers short biographies of these lawyers. When a lawyer has an “AV” rating that identifies a lawyer and a firm with a “very high to preeminent” legal ability. It is as high as a lawyer can be rated. Martindale-Hubbell ratings are created by attorneys and used by other attorneys. That AV rating “clearly indicates a demonstration of the highest professional and ethical standards.”
Another resource is The Best Lawyers in America. (www.bestlawyers.com). Lawyers listed in Best Lawyers been evaluated and selected by other lawyers as “the best” in a number of specialties, including personal injury law. A third resource from another legal organization is called Superlawyers. (www.superlawyers.com) The Super Lawyers annual listing of lawyers is also by practice area. It recognizes the top 5% of lawyers who have attained a high degree of peer recognition.
B. Client Reviews
Client reviews show up in many place today. Check the lawyers Google page for reviews. Check to see if they have reviews on a Facebook page. Some lawyers even have Yelp reviews. Read the reviews be sure they sound like real people not “canned” reviews. Do they discuss their personal experience or is it a generic experience?
Another client review system in place now is called AVVO. Its highest rating is a 10. It offers a combination of things that you can use to evaluate an attorney including client reviews.
Second, Be Careful of the Type of Advertising the Lawyer Does.
A. TV Lawyers
We have discussed elsewhere our opinion of TV Lawyers. Suffice it to say here. Why would you trust a TV Lawyer?
B. Direct mail solicitation
We suggest you be wary of lawyers who send “solicitation” letters to your home following an accident. Some lawyers these days get accident reports from public information files. They use those reports to identify and contact the injured person. The firm mails an advertisement that is a solicitation letter to the injury victim usually trying to play on the injured person’s uncertainty. Some send advertising materials with the letters and follow-up letters.
Most firms that rely on solicitation letters operate on the high volume, fast cheap settlement type of business basis.
Most firms have websites and they can provide you a chance to review at your own leisure information about the attorneys and the firm.
Third, Take Advantage of the Contingent Fee System
A. Get a free consultation about your case
Pretty much every personal injury lawyers will offer a free consultation about your case on the phone. There is no reason that you should not take full advantage of those offers. You have likely seen them advertised:
“No Recovery/ No Fee.”
“Free initial consultation.”
“Home and hospital visits available.”
This is not something “special.” It is a chance for you to learn something about your potential case and the lawyer. It is the chance for the lawyer to do an initial evaluation of your case. It is helpful for both.
B. Understand the “no fee if no recovery” or “contingent fee” system
Personal injury law is primarily done under the contingent fee system basis. This means that the attorney will work for free until a settlement payment or a jury verdict payment has been made on your claim. The fee is a percentage of the amount recovered. Generally speaking, it is around 1/3rd or 33.33% of the amount recovered. Sometimes it can be more sometimes less for a variety of reasons. That means that the lawyer will not charge the client a fee unless there is a recovery.
The thing to understand is that in addition to an attorney fee pursuing your case has expenses. These are things the lawyer pays for. For example, a copy of your medical records from the physician’s office. These are charged in addition to the fee. If your case happens to be a loss, on a contingent fee agreement you will owe the lawyer nothing for his time (i.e. a $0 attorney fee.) One third of nothing is nothing.
However, expenses are things that you still will have an obligation to pay back. In addition to medical records expenses can be for expert witness fees, court reporter fees, charges for physician meetings or reports, court filing fees and a number of other things.
You should be sure you understand how case expenses are handled differently by the law firm you retain. One way is to require the client to pay all or a substantial share of the litigation expenses at the start of a case or on an ongoing basis. That can hurt. The other way is for the lawyer to pay the expenses as the case goes along. The client then pays the lawyer back out of the recovery at the end of the case, after the lawyer’s fee is deducted.
And if you lose? Some lawyers do not pursue their right to get repaid and treat it as a cost of doing business. Other lawyers expect the client to pay the firm back no matter what happens. It is a matter of philosphy and different lawyers have different philosophies.
You should figure out the lawyer’s philosophy on this issue up front. If you hear something like “don’t worry about it, I’ve never lost a case,” you should consider a different lawyer. Be sure you know what to expect and an honest lawyer will talk to you about it up front.
Fourth, Find Out Some Specific Things About the Lawyer You are Considering.
A. Does the lawyer get cases as referrals from other lawyers?
The top of the line personal injury lawyers are out there and the other lawyers know who they are. One way to check that is to find out whether the lawyer you are considering regularly gets referrals from other lawyers. Another telling thing is if the lawyer gets referrals from insurance claims professionals. Those people deal with all the personal injury lawyers and understand the variances in quality among them.
B. Does the lawyer handle personal injury cases on a daily basis?
There are many types of lawyers. Some are “general practitioners.” They take and handle many different types of legal issues with only an occasional personal injury case. For a serious injury you want a specialist, a lawyer who deals with personal injury cases daily. Injury law is more complex today than it has ever been. There are subtleties, and rules that a general practitioner just cannot know about. And the insurance company lawyers hired to defend the person who hurt you generally are such specialists. And well-seasoned ones at that.
Having a general practitioner, or worse yet, someone with a specialty other than injury deal with a major case is asking for a disaster.
C. What is the lawyer’s level of experience with personal injury cases?
As noted above, experienced lawyers and rookie lawyers charge the same percentage fee no matter how long they have been practicing. So if a lawyer with 3 years under her belt is going to charge you the same fee as a lawyer with 25 years experience , you should strongly consider hiring the more seasoned lawyer. The experience of your lawyer can make a very big difference in the outcome of your case.
D. Does this lawyer actually go to court?
Many people think that personal injury lawyers all go to the courthouse and have trials regularly. The truth is different. Too many of the lawyers who hold themselves out as “trial lawyers” or “personal injury lawyers” have limited jury trial experience. Check the lawyers trial experience as one of the first things you do.
The insurance companies and the lawyers they hire to defend personal injury cases know the injury lawyers who actually try cases. Those who don’t simply cannot recover as much money for you. Insurance companies use the lawyer’s history as part of their evaluation of the risk in a case. The attorney representing the plaintiff matters in increasing that risk.
The one way to get top dollar for your case in a settlement is to have a lawyer that goes to court when needed. If the insurance company believes your lawyer is ready, willing and able to try the case to a jury, you will get the best offer available in settlement as well. If you hire a lawyer who always settles and never goes to court, be prepared to take a substantial discount on your case.
E. Does this lawyer also teach other lawyers?
A lawyer who frequently lectures at legal education seminars do so because they have something to offer. They are asked to speak because other attorneys want to hear what they have to say. You can often find the topics the lawyer has lectured on or written about on the attorney’s website.
F. Does the lawyer participate as a member of legal groups that specialize in representing injured people?
As a specialty practice, personal injury lawyers work together in state associations and national associations that focus on helping injured people. The most prominent national organization is the American Association of Justice (AAJ). In Idaho, the Idaho Trial Lawyers Association (ITLA) supports lawyers that represent consumers and the injured. Having a lawyer who does not participate in these organizations with their training and advocacy represent you in an injury lawsuit is a serious mistake.
We are comfortable that if you go through this investigative process you will find the good lawyer to help you. And that you will also find that Holzer Edwards, Chtd. is one of the firms that you will be considering. We strive to be the best accident injury lawyers in the State of Idaho. We do not claim to be the only good ones. But we certainly want you to stay away from those that are not good.