Is it any wonder that, according to Avvo, “59% of people surveyed have tried to solve their legal issues by themselves?” And while 22% of Americans had some sort of legal problem in the past, only 12% hired a lawyer. People end up in legal situations well over their heads due to an unfortunate and largely inaccurate stereotype about lawyers and the legal profession.
I want to spend a few moments trying to help you see past the stereotype and (I hope) convincing you to consult with a personal injury lawyer when the situation calls for it.
There is a stigma attached to lawsuits, the plaintiffs who file them, and the lawyers who represent those plaintiffs. If you know a lawyer joke, it is likely a plaintiff’s lawyer joke. In a Gallup survey, 51% of those polled said that “we would be better off with fewer lawyers,” with 74% agreeing that “lawyers are more interested in winning than seeing justice served.”
Bottom line — while many Americans will find themselves in significant legal situations, most will try to go it alone, often with disastrous consequences. Abraham Lincoln said long ago that a person who “represents himself has a fool for a client.” Self-representation can lead to financial disaster, as the defendant and the defendant’s insurance company will be represented by or have access to counsel.
Why do roughly one in four Americans end up in a situation that involves the legal system? Unfortunately, is not at all uncommon for children to be a victim of crime either in school or in youth activities.
Education Week reports that in the 2017-2018 academic year 5.2% of K-12 schools reported incidence of sexual assault, a number that is rising from previous years.
When youth activities such as sports and church are factored in, one out of every four boys and one out of every six girls are victims of sexual abuse before age 18.
Factoring out the number of Americans who are the victim of intentional criminal acts, in 2018 there were 167,127 preventable deaths, 46.5 such injuries, at a cost of over a trillion dollars. In that year, there were 4.5 million automobile injuries that required medical attention resulting in 39,404 deaths.
With that said, and perhaps with more of an open mind, when is a good time to hire a personal injury lawyer?
Let’s start with what it means to “hire” a lawyer.
Lawyers are often thought to be expensive, and in some instances, they can be. And retaining counsel is commonly thought of as engaging the person in some formal way. But often it can be helpful to get a lawyer on the phone or in a brief email conversation for informal advice on how to handle a situation.
Personal injury lawyers typically work on a contingency basis (you do not pay them. They take a percentage of whatever judgment they win for you). This means two things. First, the lawyer is unlikely to manipulate you into bringing a baseless suit because it will not be in the lawyer’s interest to do so.
However, if you establish a relationship with a lawyer early enough, the lawyer has a financial incentive to help protect you from making a mistake that might either sabotage your matter or diminish its value. And it will likely not cost you anything to have an initial conversation with a lawyer.
If the other side has access to lawyers, then you should too.
A good rule of thumb for when it is time to hire a personal injury lawyer is if your opponent has a lawyer or has access to counsel. If you are bringing a claim against a corporation, a party with insurance, a governmental entity, a youth association, a church, or a school, they will either have an attorney, access to attorneys, or will have a set of policies and procedures in place to deal with you that was created by attorneys.
Attorneys are ethically bound to act with zeal to protect the interest of their clients. They are educated in the law. And they often have a depth of expertise in particular industries. And they have seen many situations just like yours. I know that the crisis feels deeply personal to you. But the situation has likely arisen an infinite times before. This means that you could very well be out of your depth. And even if you will be treated fairly in the matter, at some level you may worry that you were taken advantage of. A lawyer can offer you peace of mind at the very least and a more even playing field at best.
If you feel strong emotions about the matter, a lawyer is a good idea.
Even lawyers know to use lawyers when they are in a legal situation. If we factor out, experience, knowledge, intelligence, and legal acumen, and assume that all of those things are even, you likely are not objective about the situation. Counsel is not in the situation and can likely think more clearly about it than you can. Emotions cloud judgment. When you have strong emotions about a situation, your thinking is neither deep nor clear.
Emotions can make you unrealistic in the goals you set.
Your emotions may lead you to interact with your opponent in a way that is detrimental to your success. And, make no mistake, your opponent’s lawyer or claims specialist will not feel emotional about the matter. They will be highly rational about matter.
If you are one of the millions of Americans who find yourself in a situation where you need a lawyer, you should not also align yourself with the amazingly high percentage of Americans who forgo representation.
If the matter is important if your opponent has a lawyer or access to counsel, and if the subject at hand makes you feel emotional, you should hire a personal injury lawyer to protect you, advise you, and shepherd you through the process.