When a prospective personal injury client comes to our office, it is often apparent that the client does not know the right questions to ask. Here’s our suggestion on the questions to ask when selecting a lawyer for a personal injury case. 1. Who is actually going to be working on your case? Don’t pick a particular law firm just because you like the guy who appears on their television ads, unless that guy is actually going to work on your case. You should have the chance to meet the paralegals and staff attorneys who will handle your case before you sign the engagement agreement. 2. Has the firm handled cases similar to yours? The legal market is very competitive, and some lawyers will claim that they can handle your case, but they have little or no experience in that particular area of the law. 3. What type of fee agreement best serves the client? Some lawyers don’t want to consider any type of fee arrangement other than a standard 40% contingency fee agreement. When the lawyer refuses to discuss other alternatives, you can be sure that the lawyer is not putting the client first. There are many ways to tailor a fee agreement to ensure that it is fair to the client. If there is little doubt as to liability, and when the injuries are severe, the lawyer should be willing to consider a reduced contingency fee, at least if the case settles without a lawsuit being filed. Our firm also agrees, up front, to reduce the fees in cases involving severe injury to a child. We know that the courts which must approve a child’s settlement appreciate this fee reduction, and it demonstrates that everyone involved is truly acting in the child’s best interest. And, in some cases, when the client can afford it, it makes sense to consider an hourly-fee agreement or a blended-fee agreement (combining a reduced hourly rate with a reduced contingency fee), which will ultimately increase the amount of money that goes to the client at the end of the case. 4. Is the lawyer going to refer the case out to some other law firm? If the lawyer doesn’t have the expertise or the time to work on your case, why would you want to sign up with her law firm? There are limited instances where you might expect that a lawyer would work together with other lawyers who pool their cases, and divide the responsibilities between the firms, but make sure that the lawyer you choose will remain the lead counsel. 5. Is the lawyer reputable? Check the State Bar website to determine whether the lawyer has had disciplinary action taken against him. On occasion, a good lawyer can have blemish on his record, but you should at least ask the lawyer about any disciplinary actions taken, and determine whether you are still comfortable. 6. Can the lawyer see the weaknesses in your case? When you are in the initial consultation, a lawyer should be able to analyze not only the strengths of your case, but also the weaknesses. Some lawyers don’t want to discuss the weaknesses until after you are a client, out of fear that the prospective client will think the lawyer is not “on board.” A good lawyer will discuss the weaknesses up front to make sure your expectations are reasonable. After taking the case, the lawyer then knows that she must get to work immediately to overcome those weaknesses. 7. Is the law firm and its staff available to you? All law firms get busy, and it is difficult to keep a client informed on the developments in a case. There will probably be times that you are wondering what is happening, and you want a firm that will take your call and give you a quick update. 8. Does the law firm and its staff respect your time? A law firm is a business that provides a service. The firm should work with you to make things as convenient as possible, to ensure you don’t miss too much work, by scheduling meetings around your schedule whenever possible. Even better, a law firm that utilizes email and other technology can reduce the need for face-to-face meetings. 9. Does the law firm empathize with your situation? A lawyer is a trusted advisor. To serve in that role, the lawyer must understand and truly care about your injuries and problems. If you get the impression that the lawyer wants to cut your consultation visit short, chances are that the lawyer doesn’t really want to hear the details that are necessary to understand your goals. 10. Is the law firm a “high volume” shop? When a law firm that assigns hundreds of cases to a single lawyer, you can rest assured that your case will not receive much in the way of individualized attention. As a result, something might be missed along the way that would have made your case different from the standard automobile accident.
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