After an accident, it’s natural to feel a wide range of emotions. Anger, fear, uncertainty: These are all normal. A personal injury attorney can help you navigate through these feelings and help you get the compensation you deserve. But where do you start? How do you find the attorney that’s right for you? If you are like most people, you likely have little to no experience working with an attorney. An online search for personal injury attorneys will bring up hundreds of results. So how do you weed through it all?
There is no doubt that finding the right attorney can be a daunting task. But there are a lot of resources out there to help you find the best attorney for your type of case in your geographic area. To get started, use an internet search to begin generating some ideas. Utilize online reviews as well as testimonies on the attorney’s website. There are a variety of websites that have attorney reviews. A law firm with a good reputation will typically have consistently good ratings across the board. There are also many websites that specifically rate lawyers.
Why Do I Need a Personal Injury Attorney?
There are many essential reasons for hiring a personal injury attorney. You may be considering handling your case on your own, but insurance companies are tricky and are incentivized to prioritize company profits. In order to make sure that profits are high and spending is low, insurance companies use a slew of tactics. And, when someone doesn’t have an attorney representing them, these tactics often go unchecked.
An attorney you hire doesn’t just help your chances of getting a proper settlement, they also make sure that your compensation is thorough. This means they take into account future medical bills, unexpected expenses, and pain and suffering. A good personal injury attorney will do this by pulling medical records, examining the police report, contacting witnesses, keeping in touch with you about your medical treatment, and using their experience from the many cases they worked on before yours.
Having an experienced attorney can also take a lot of the weight off of your shoulders so that you can focus on recovering from your injuries while your attorney worries about the legal aspects.
The laws that apply to personal injury cases are also very complicated, and while your case may seem simple, there are often many underlying elements that could affect the outcome of your claim. Having experienced legal representation on your side is the only way to ensure complex legal factors are taken into account.
Even if you are confident you could properly represent yourself in a case, most often the best decision is to go with an experienced attorney. Lots of people cite expense as the reason they don’t hire a personal injury attorney. However, many studies have shown that, even after attorney fees, injury victims walk away with more money than those individuals who represented themselves. You also don’t have to worry about paying any money upfront since most attorneys work on a contingency fee basis, which means they don’t get paid unless you recover compensation.
Below, we address some of the top things you should look for in a personal injury attorney.
What are the Attorney’s Areas of Focus?
First things first. If you suffer an injury during an accident, you need to hire a personal injury attorney. You probably shouldn’t just call up the attorney that helped you through your divorce or helped you start up your small business. Personal injury attorneys work with clients who have suffered an injury due to someone else’s negligence. Within the field, there are several areas of focus. While many personal injury attorneys focus on a wide range of disciplines, you want someone who has worked a case like yours before so they can effectively litigate your case. Common focus areas include:
Motor Vehicle Accidents
Motor vehicle accidents are one of the most common causes of personal injury cases. According to a recent report, accidents have increased by 11 percent in just one year.
Premises liability covers accidents that happen on someone else’s property. This includes slip and fall accidents, dog bites, and swimming pool accidents. These accidents are very common. When you speak to an attorney, ask if they have direct experience working your type of case.
When a person dies as a result of someone else’s negligence, the victim’s family has the right to seek damages from the negligent party. While wrongful death suits technically fall under personal injury, they involve a completely different set of laws and only allow for certain damages.
Consider the Attorney’s Experience
Experience is one thing you should look for in an attorney. Experience shows that the attorney knows the legal system and has worked with various types of insurance companies, plaintiffs, and defendants. But it’s not just about how many years of experience an attorney has. Before you hire an attorney, you should do a little research to make sure you are comfortable with who you will work with.
Things you should look at include:
- The attorney’s website: The first thing you should look at when you consider an attorney is their website. Is it professional? Does it share case results? Does it provide ample information about the attorneys? This information can tell you a lot about an attorney and their firm. But remember, these sites are designed to get you to contact the attorney. As such, they should not be your only source of information.
- Disciplinary history: If you look at nothing else, look at the attorney’s disciplinary history. The Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission allows the public to search for an attorney and view their license status, contact information, and whether they have any disciplinary history.
- Attorney reviews: One of the great things about the internet is you can find a review for anything, even lawyers. Websites like Google, Yelp, and Facebook have ratings for most law firms.
- Online ratings: Websites like Super Lawyers and AVVO look at a variety of factors and rate lawyers. These ratings websites may look at trial and settlement history, reviews, endorsements from other attorneys, etc. For example, both David Abels and Gary Annes have 10.0 ratings from AVVO and they are both on the Illinois Super Lawyer Top 100 list (out of over 90,000 lawyers). Further, Abels & Annes is on the Three Best Rated list for Chicago injury lawyers, and David Abels is a lifetime member of the Multi-Million Dollar Advocates Forum.
Set up a Free Case Evaluation
After you find a handful of attorneys that seem experienced, helpful, and knowledgeable, set up a few free case evaluations with the attorneys you’re considering. Often you can call and talk to an attorney immediately, if they are available.
Tell them about your case and listen to their opinions. Ask them questions about their experience, how the process will work, and what they think about your specific case.
Generally, feel out the attorney as a person. And ask yourself if you could see yourself working with them on your case. Below are a few ideas about the types of questions you should ask an attorney before hiring them.
Questions to Ask During Your Consultation
During your first meeting with an attorney, you should be prepared to ask them a series of questions to determine whether or not they’re the right attorney for you.
You should ask them:
- about their experience with your specific type of case. For example, how many car accident cases have they worked on, and ask about a general overview of a case. Although you have researched their experience prior to meeting, as discussed above, now is a good time to hear it from them directly.
- what kinds of cases they handle on a daily basis and how many cases they are currently handling. This will give you a good idea of how busy they are and whether or not they have the available time to dedicate to your case in particular.
- if they have experience trying lawsuits in court. Many attorneys don’t have experience arguing a case in court since they have only ever settled cases pre-trial. This is important because although your case is likely to settle also, you will want an attorney with a lot of courtroom experience in the event that your case does actually go in front of a jury.
- what their communication with clients is like. Do they have a specific protocol for getting back to clients or a certain way they communicate with them? Do they give regular updates and keep clients informed about what is going on with their case?
Some Things to Consider Before Hiring a Law Firm
When it comes to hiring an attorney, first impressions are incredibly important. You should consider your first meeting or phone call as a trial run for how well the two of you are going to work together in the future. You should consider the following when hiring an attorney:
- The first time you called, was someone available to speak to you within a reasonable period of time? This could be the first indication that they don’t have the time to take on your case.
- Was the person evaluating your case polite? Did they seem to care about what you had to say? This is an important first impression. If they were indifferent on the phone, this may translate over once you become a client.
- Were you able to speak with an attorney? It’s not always possible for you to speak with an attorney the first time that you call—and that shouldn’t necessarily be a reason to walk away—but you should receive an adequate idea of when someone will follow up with you. If they don’t follow up in the time specified, it might be a good idea to work with a different personal injury lawyer.
- When you arrived at their office, did they appear organized and ready for your visit? A law firm that seems as if they weren’t expecting you or can’t find your file is probably a good indication of their overall organization level.
- Lots of law firms have intake specialists that handle initial meetings before the client meets with an attorney during the second half of the consultation. This is perfectly normal. However, if you are not able to speak to an attorney during your first meeting, there is a good chance that you won’t be able to speak with an attorney very often once you’re a client.
- Did they answer all of your questions? If you left your meeting feeling confused or with unanswered questions, you should ask yourself why they couldn’t help clear things up for you.
- And lastly, did you feel confident in the attorney that you spoke with? Did you get the impression that the attorney was competent and could be a benefit to your case?
Attorneys aren’t one size fits all. So pick the best one for your needs and for your case.
A Few Other Factors to Consider
Experience is important, but it’s not the only thing that matters.
When you have a list of qualified candidates, you can narrow it down by looking at a few basic factors, including:
- Availability: This one is important. Does the attorney have enough time to take on your case? How can you tell? Ask. Talk to the attorney about their availability, the size of their team, and how much time they have to devote to your case.
- Cost: Most personal injury attorneys work on a contingency basis. This means they take a certain percentage of your final settlement. However, this amount can vary from attorney to attorney. Know what you will have to pay before you sign on with an attorney. For example, Abels & Annes typically charges a fee of 1/3 of the settlement or verdict and, unlike many law firms, we do not increase our fees to 40% if a case goes to court.
- Location: It doesn’t matter how qualified an attorney is if he or she is so far away you will never get to meet them. Try to find someone who is close enough that you can meet face-to-face when necessary.
- Comfort: When it all comes down to it, you want to work with someone you are comfortable with. Most of the time, this comes down to your gut. Does the person make you feel comfortable? Most attorneys offer a free initial consultation. If you don’t like one person, move on to the next.
Try to remember, this is your case and your future. Only you will know who is the right personal injury lawyer for you.