Five Questions to Ask a Personal Injury Attorney during Consultation
When you are dealing with a personal injury claim, the entire experience can leave you feeling frightened and unprepared. Not only are you in physical pain, you may have lost a substantial amount of money. It is tempting to hire the first lawyer you call, so that you can get the case started and put it all behind you. However, making a hasty decision about your legal representation is a mistake, and choosing the wrong attorney could keep you from getting the full amount of money you deserve. A thorough consultation and interview, starting with these five questions, can help you make a wise decision concerning your legal representation.
1. "What Is Your Background?"
It is important that you know the educational and professional background of your potential lawyer. Find out where he or she went to school, whether he or she has taken any continuing education courses, how long he or she has been practicing law, what bar associations he or she is a member of, what jurisdictions he or she may work in, how many cases he or she has taken to trial, and how many cases he or she has won. In essence, you are conducting a job interview for your lawyer, so you should learn as much as you can about his or her professional qualifications.
2. "Have You Handled This Type of Case Before?"
You wouldn't hire a brain surgeon to perform your open heart surgery. The same principle applies to law. Lawyers have specialties, and while you might be speaking to the best auto insurance lawyer in your state, he or she may be unequipped to handle medical malpractice cases. Some lawyers can handle many types of personal injury claims with equal success, so, again, ask about the cases they have handled in the past. Be cautious when it comes to insurance claims; if a lawyer has more experience representing the insurance companies than injured parties, it is probably in your best interests to seek another attorney.
3. "Do You Charge on a Contingency Basis?"
You may be hesitant about opening a personal injury case, thinking that if you lose, you will face steep legal fees. Many attorneys charge on a contingency basis. This means that, unless you win your case, they will not charge you at all. If your case is successful, they will take a certain percentage of your recovered damages, which can range from 25 percent to 40 percent. Other attorneys may charge on an hourly basis, but since no case ever has a completely certain outcome, it is best to choose a lawyer who only charges contingency fees.
4. "Will My Case Go to Court?"
Personal injury cases can be settled in two ways: through a court case or through pre-trial negotiation. Although settling out of court is typically in your best interests, it is not always possible. Your attorney should always act as though your case is going to trial. If he or she guarantees a pre-trial settlement, be wary. Not only is he or she making unrealistic promises, he or she may not be well-prepared if the case does wind up in court.
5. "How Much Money Am I Entitled To?"
Of course, before the trial there is no way to know exactly how much money you will recover. Your full damages depend on final medical bills, the discovery of case investigators, the court's calculation of pain and suffering, and other issues. However, an attorney should have some idea of your case's worth even before taking you on as a client. Ask for an estimate, and again, be cautious. If the lawyer's estimate seems optimistically high or unreasonably low, use your judgment, and ask another attorney to compare quotes.
Finding the Right Fit
By coming to your consultation fully prepared and by asking the right questions, you can find an attorney who is well-equipped to handle your case. Remember, this is also something of a personal decision. You may be working closely with your lawyer for months, and he or she will be seeing you through some tough legal and emotional battles. It is important to find an attorney with whom you feel comfortable and at ease. Together, you will work to defend your case and get the full amount of money you deserve.