If your family has ever experienced a serious accident, debilitating illness, or even a brush with death, you understand just how quickly your world can be turned upside down. One minute, you are all happy and healthy; the next, everything has changed. Your world has been thrown into utter chaos. It’s all you can do to keep body and soul together. You and your spouse might quarrel under the stress or begin to drift apart rather than relying on one another for support.
Such accidents, incidents, and emergencies are trying even under the best possible circumstances. But when they occur because of someone else’s negligence, you are likely feeling extreme anger on top of all the other emotions. How could this have happened? Who's responsible for the screw-up? And how can the situation be resolved to your satisfaction?
In some cases, it may be worthwhile — once all the dust settles, and you are no longer dealing with the immediate crisis — to consult with a personal injury attorney. An attorney can help you decide if another person, group, or entity is indeed at fault, and whether or not you should take legal action to get compensation for your pain and suffering.
Before you begin meeting with personal injury lawyers, however, it pays to do your homework. Read over these questions that you should ask the attorney, so you can make the most of the initial consultation — and get started on the road to emotional recovery that much sooner.
Q: Tell Me About Your Experience
With all due respect to new lawyers, you don’t want an attorney who’s fresh out of law school handling your case — at least not all on their own.Education is important, but experience is equally critical, if not more so. Ask about the attorney’s experience, including how many settlements they’ve negotiated, how many cases they’ve taken to trial, and what percentage of their clients walked away satisfied.
Chances are that by the time an attorney is meeting with you one-on-one, they’ve logged plenty of hours assisting colleagues with cases and pitching in by doing research. They have likely worked their way up the ranks from a support or associate position to a “second chair” role, and then graduating to taking on cases as a lead attorney. So their answer to your question about experience should be quick, confident, and reassuring.
Of course, it’s also best to work with a lawyer who specializes in the type of personal injury law your case falls under. If you were involved in a semi-truck accident, for example, it’s not ideal to use an attorney whose bread-and-butter is medical malpractice. Personal injury law covers motorcycle and vehicle accidents, dog bites, slip-and-fall cases, workers’ compensation, wrongful death, construction accidents, mesothelioma and asbestos cases, and many other types of injury.
Q: Who Will Be Working on My Case?
On the other side of the spectrum, it’s important to realize that those high-profile attorneys whose names grace the billboards and the letterhead probably aren’t going to be doing the day-to-day gruntwork on your case. They will delegate many of the steps involved in a personal injury lawsuit to junior associates, legal aides, paralegals, and other support staff. That’s normal, particularly with large law firms, but it can come as a bit of a surprise to some clients.
Before you make the decision to hire an attorney, it’s a good idea to ask if you can be introduced to their support staff. Find out who will be your main contact person, as well. That will ensure that everyone’s understand and expectations are in line, and that communication between you and your law firm will go smoothly.
Q: What About Payment? Do You Work on Contingency?
Most personal injury lawyers work on a contingency basis. They don’t collect any fee or payment from you unless and until you reach a settlement agreement through negotiations or win your case at trial. That means the lawyer won’t take your case unless they believe strongly that it’s winnable, and that they’ll fight hard and do whatever it takes to succeed.
Once your case has concluded, theattorney’s fee will be a percentage of the damages you have been awarded. Make sure to inquire about any other costs — filing fees, testing, expert witness fees, photocopies, etc. — and whether or not you will be expected to pay those or if they will be subtracted from your compensation.
“Our firm also typically advances the costs of investigating, prosecuting and maintaining your claim and/or lawsuit,” says Steven Schwartzapfel of Schwartzapfel Lawyers FightingForYou.com. However, this may not always be the case, so check with the attorneys you interview, to avoid sticker shock when all is said and done.
Discussing these three issues, along with presenting the facts of your case, will usually be sufficient to determine whether this attorney or firm is right for you, and whether they will take you as a client. But don’t hesitate to ask any other questions that you might have; that’s the purpose of this complimentary consultation. Being honest and upfront about your concerns will ensure that the working relationship is a strong one, and will in turn increase the odds of success in your quest for justice.