The field of personal injury law is saturated. It is difficult to take a drive and not see the billboards of people in suits next to photographs of colliding cars. Those billboards boast of large settlements and judgments. And they almost always have some fine print at the bottom. You may see these same lawyers on social media outlets or daytime television.
If you are looking to hire a personal injury lawyer, it seems that there are too many choices. According to IBISWorld, there are 93,000 personal injury lawyers in the United States and 56,000 businesses that serve that industry. Personal injury is a $38-billion-dollar market. And it is filled to savvy marketers to compete for your attention.
And, if you have never had any experience with the legal system there is little guidance available to help make a decision. In this article, I hope to provide you with a few guidelines to guide you through making a hiring decision.
1. Not All Lawyers, Even Great Lawyers Are Right For All Clients.
When you hire a lawyer, particularly on something as potentially complex as a personal injury matter, you are not hiring a mere technician. You are entering into a relationship with someone that may span years and many emotional highs and lows. So, the first and more important criteria are your level of comfort with the person who will represent you.
To quote The American Bar Association “the first qualification is that you must feel comfortable enough to tell him or her, honestly and completely, all the facts necessary to resolve your problem. No one you listen to and nothing you read will be able to guarantee that a particular lawyer will be the best for you: you must judge that for yourself.”
The primary guide should be how you feel about the lawyer. There must be mutual trust if you are to put the lawyer in a good position to help you. And the elements of that dynamic are largely intangible.
2. Know What Your Goals Are And Envision How You Would Like To Achieve Them.
While this step seems obvious, it is often overlooked. Ask yourself this question: “if the lawyer I hire is as successful in representing me as I can possibly imagine, what would that success look like?” Spend some time with that question. Write down some answers.
Often what drives us is not money or at least not just money. Sometimes, the driving force is a sense of justice, the need to be heard, to achieve closure, or to feel vindicated. All of these needs are basic.
The system’s idea of making you “whole” is largely measured in dollars. And the system can be a frustrating place. But whatever your goals are, it is important to name them. And it may be that your lawyer’s listening ear is the main way that the system hears you. And once you know what your goal is, try to envision what the journey would ideally be like. How would you like your lawyer to travel there with you? If you do this level of work early, it will (we hope) foster a productive conversation in which expectations are named and adjusted. And you can know a bit better what you are about to undertake.
3. Organize Your Material.
As you prepare to look for an attorney, you should gather as much as possible and organize it. If you have been seen by a doctor or mental health expert, prepare a list of those professionals as well as their contact information. Gather and organize incident reports and accident reports.
If you are physically injured or your property was damaged, do all you can to document those things. If there are key witnesses, either law enforcement or laypeople, keep a list of those names and contact information as well as a summary of what those witnesses might say. Were you interviewed about the incident? Note the circumstances of those interviews. Are there photographs, text messages, emails, or other documents related to the matter? If so, do all you can to preserve that information. Journal or keep notes of contact with people are things as they happen. Your memory will fade over time.
When you speak to law offices, tell them that you have this material. Also, gather all insurance information that you have, key addresses, and identifying information about yourself. Have available any insurance contracts that you have on hand.
4. Interview Lawyers.
As you interview lawyers, take note at how you feel about the level of engagement. How prompt are they at getting back with you? How comfortable do they make you feel? Do you feel like the process is being demystified for you if you were confused before? Is your case being handled by a call center? Do you feel like your case is part of an inventory, or do you feel like a human being? Do you feel heard? Does you feel judged or understood? Do you feel pressure to make a decision?
5. Understand The Terms Of The Representation.
If a personal injury lawyer undertakes to represent you in a matter, you will likely not have to pay him anything for the representation unless your matter is successfully resolved, in which case the attorney will take a percentage of your recovery. And costs of litigation will be taken from the settlement or judgment at the end of the case. The lawyer should sign a written engagement with you that spells out how the lawyer’s compensation will work. And the lawyer should also be able to explain the terms to you in a way you understand.
Whenever you have a legal problem, the road can be unclear. With a market as saturated as the personal injury market is, the process of hiring a lawyer can be intimidating. However, with a clear goal in mind, with your materials organized, and with some good questions, the process can be more manageable. While the perfect lawyer may not be out there, the guidelines will help you find the lawyer who is perfect for you.