In this day and age, consumers are literally bombarded with advertising messages from personal injury attorneys. Billboards, Yellow Pages, Internet sites and Television ads all tout how “aggressive” a particular law firm or attorney is in handling personal injury matters. While being “aggressive” is not necessarily a bad quality , you must look beyond the hype to choose the best lawyer to protect your interests and obtain a favorable result.
The truth is that many personal injury attorneys, including some of those who may advertise as being “aggressive”, rarely go to court or file lawsuits on behalf of their clients. Depending on the source, statistics indicate that approximately 80% of all cases settle before a suit is ever filed – hopefully for a fair value to the client. One thing is certain, the lawyer or law firm gets paid their 33% contingency and quickly moves on to the next case.
This dynamic can be especially true for the “high dollar” advertising law firms. Now, many of these firms provide professional and competent legal services for their clients. However, you as the consumer need some basic guidelines to keep in mind when selecting any lawyer to handle your personal injury case.
First, will the case be primarily be handled by the attorney or a non-attorney “case manager” or paralegal ?
Secondly, are you offered the opportunity to speak in person with the attorney before you sign the fee agreement? Many firms routinely send investigators to the potential client’s home armed with pen and fee agreement to sign the client up without any contact with the actual attorney that will handle the case. Most people would not hire a dentist or an architect in that manner. You should insist upon meeting your attorney in person before you sign anything.
Thirdly, does the attorney actually litigate cases, through trial if necessary, to seek the full measure of your damages ?? Many lawyers, when faced with an unacceptable settlement offer, refer the case to another attorney to file suit and handle the case through the courts. This is an approved practice and one which the attorney is required to inform you about at the time you sign the fee agreement. You should always inquire whether your case will be referred to another attorney you have never met should you decide to file a lawsuit.
You should always ask how much trial experience the attorney has. The insurance companies maintain a database which contains this information. They know which attorneys actually try cases and which ones always settle. Common sense dictates that those who always settle may not get full value for their clients.
Finally, is the attorney responsive to your inquiries? Are you sent copies of all important correspondence and pleadings filed in your case ? Does the attorney return you phone calls. There are times when a case manager’s answers regarding your case are sufficient. However, just as sometimes it is necessary to speak with your doctor rather than his nurse, there are times when you may require a answer or clarification from the attorney rather than a staff member. Do not settle for less.
People who have personal injury cases are often still physically and emotionally shaken by their accident experience when forced to seek legal counsel. Many have never hired an attorney in their lives. So long as you look past the barrage of lawyer advertisements and make an educated inquiry into the actual qualifications and experience of prospective attorneys, your chances of obtaining an informed and favorable outcome are greatly increased.