Five Questions To Ask When Hiring a Personal Injury Attorney
Hiring an attorney is a challenge that many of us have never had to face before. Here are some questions to ask when hiring a personal injury attorney.
1. How many clients are you personally responsible for?
First, this question assumes that you are talking to an attorney. If the attorney's office that you called does not have an attorney handling your call, do you think you will have access to an attorney throughout your case? It is not unreasonable to speak with an attorney, especially when you are hiring that attorney to handle your case! Ask to speak with an attorney, then ask them how many clients they are responsible for. Ask how many clients total they are responsible for, including pre-litigation cases. There is no magic number here, but if it is more than 100, or the attorney refuses to answer, then consider how that will affect communication in your case. If communication is important to you, consider going with another attorney with fewer cases.
2. How often can I expect updates on my case?
Look for attorneys that have a ready answer to this question. If they do not have a specific plan for updating clients, beware. Also ask for the methods by which clients are updated. Do they have the ability to text clients? Email? Is there a client portal? Attorneys that focus on communication will likely have all three. Get a commitment to update you at least once a month, or look for attorneys that promise this level of communication.
3. Do you have jury trial experience? If so how many jury trials have you tried as first chair to verdict in the last 3 years?
While not all cases go to trial, and while you probably aren't excited about that proposition either, attorneys that go to trial are the ones that have a reputation for fighting. Insurance companies track everything. This includes attorneys. They know that they can settle cases for cheaper to the attorney that never goes to trial versus the attorney that isn't afraid to fight. Notice that we aren't asking about whether or not they win. You are looking for an attorney that is known for fighting, that will get your case resolved. That attorney goes to trial. If the answer is zero, then consider going with an attorney that has fought at least once in the last three years. There is a flip-side to that coin, however. If the attorney you are speaking with goes to more than 10 trials per year, you might have an attorney that doesn't have enough time to focus on your case.
4. Is my type of personal injury case one that you typically handle?
Make sure that the attorney that you are hiring has handled your type of case before. For example, some personal injury attorneys only handle medical malpractice, or cases against doctors and hospitals. Others only handle car wrecks or truck wrecks. Get specifics and ask for numbers. You might have a unique case that few attorneys have handled before. Just because your case is one that this particular attorney hasn't handled doesn't mean you shouldn't hire them. If you get an honest answer, that may be just the thing you need from the attorney. A simple, "no I haven't, but I have handled many cases that deal with the same issues as your case" is way better than an evasive or vague answer that doesn't begin with yes or no.
5. How are your expenses handled?
Every personal injury case has expenses that are the responsibility of the attorney that you are hiring. Remember that he or she is taking a chance on you to be able to hopefully get paid later. Make sure there are no surprises in the expenses. For instance, does the attorney charge a flat handling fee for office supplies and such? Does the attorney finance their expenses through a finance company? If so, do they pass the interest charge on to their clients? What this means is if the attorney spends $1,000.00 on your case and settles it, they will take $1,000.00 out of your settlement. This is normal. But if they finance $1,000.00 through a bank, will they take the interest out of your settlement as well? Neither option is a negative one. However, it is good to know up front so there are no surprises. Also ask if the expenses are taken out of the settlement before or after the contingent fees. Most of the time contingent fees are taken out of the settlement first, then expenses, then any liens or doctor's bills. Make sure you understand this before hiring your attorney. You don't want any confusion when it comes time to close out your case.