When you’ve been in an accident, you’re certain to have questions. Talking to a personal injury attorney is the best way to get some answers. But even this can be a challenge; what do you need to ask when you first meet? Here are some questions to consider. The goal is to find the right attorney for you, someone who can help you through all the steps of your case.
What types of law does your firm practice?
This question will help you gauge whether this is a firm that can assist you with every part of your case. Don’t just rely on their website – have your potential lawyer explain the fields of law they practice. “There is a huge benefit to asking this,” says attorney Rick Park, “because what you want is a specialist that practices the type of law you need.”
It’s possible, for example, that they practice personal injury law but not workers compensation law. If you were injured in an on-the-job auto accident, you might need a different attorney for your workers compensation claim. It’s good to discuss this thoroughly, as you might find that the law firm that you’re initially interested in doesn’t have the experience you need. If they don’t, it might be time to look elsewhere.
How long have you been handling cases like mine?
You’ll want to confirm the personal experience of a potential attorney to see if they’ve handled cases like yours before. “Experience over time is very important,” explains attorney Park. “If an attorney has been around for just a year and a half versus ten years, they don’t have the same experience. The longer you’ve been in business, the more trustworthy you are. Experience is invaluable.”
Attorneys handle many types of personal injury cases and may end up specializing in one over another. One might be very skilled with slip and fall cases but not so much auto accidents. Another might have handled many different auto accident cases but have no experience with dog bites. Don’t just ask if they’ve handled cases like yours before – ask how many they’ve settled and what kinds of settlements they’ve gotten. Never make assumptions about an attorney’s knowledge and experience; you always want to verify.
Will you be able to recover all my damages?
There’s no guarantee that even the best attorney can recover all your expenses, medical or otherwise. Insurance companies have their own standards for what’s reasonable, and if your case goes to trial, their lawyers will try whatever they can to minimize payment. Your prospective attorney should explain this to you but should also advise on how to avoid incurring costs that can’t be recovered. An experienced and knowledgeable attorney will know the right tools to use to avoid financial pitfalls. It’s good to be skeptical if someone promises that they’ll recover every cost.
What are the strengths and weaknesses of my case?
Never trust an attorney who’ll guarantee you a specific outcome. An ethical personal injury attorney won’t sugar coat potential problems with your case. An experienced accident attorney will have an easier time identifying potential red flags, but even newer ones can point out obvious issues. You want an attorney who will give you a full overview of any potential problems with bringing a claim, but who also knows how to deal with those problems. Their answer here can help you decide if pursuing a case is something you want to put your time and effort into.
How would you pursue my case?
While they may not be able to give much detail initially, your attorney should be able to explain their general strategy for your case when first meeting you. This will, of course, depend on the specific factors of your loss, and the type of loss itself. Dealing with an auto insurance company isn’t the same as dealing with a home insurance company, and a smart lawyer will know what approaches work and what don’t. They will also understand that while general strategies can work across multiple cases, those strategies need to be tailored to each case. Ultimately, asking this can also give you an insight into how they work.
Can you take on my case right now?
Most lawyers want to sign up as many clients as possible, but some may take on too many and let cases fall by the wayside. A smart lawyer will know if they have the time and resources to represent you, or if they’ve hit their limit. Larger firms have a clear advantage, as they have more attorneys and staff available to invest time and effort into your case. Small firms are not a bad choice, though, unless they spread themselves out in such a way that a lack of resources could cause delays with your case. What you want is a personal injury attorney with the foresight and wisdom to know if they can give your case the attention it deserves.
How do I pay for this legal work?
Most attorneys receive contingency fees, meaning they aren’t paid until your case is settled. This isn’t universal; some may require a retainer fee up front or require regular payments to cover items like clerical expenses. If an attorney accepts contingency fees, ask what their rates are. These fees typically run anywhere from 25% to up to 40% of a settlement depending on how your case is resolved. We at Park Chenaur and Associates charge 33 1/3% for cases that settle before litigation, and 40% for those that settle after. You’ll want to get this information in writing, so ask your attorney for a copy of their fee schedule and the retainer agreement once you’ve retained them.
Will I have to pay anything if we lose?
People are often scared away from hiring an accident lawyer because they worry about paying legal fees if they lose. While some attorneys do require some form of reimbursement after a loss, we at Park Chenaur and Associates are among those firms that do not. So, if there is no settlement, you would not owe our firm (or a similar one) a cent. This should be specified in the retainer paperwork, so read it very carefully before putting your name on it. If you don’t understand something, always ask your potential attorney – you want someone who will answer in plain, simple language, and who will make sure everything is clear to you before you sign.
Who will represent me?
Especially with larger firms, it’s likely that the person conducting your intake meeting won’t be the same person who works on your case every day. You should always ask which attorney you’ll be working with, as well as who the specific case manager, paralegals and legal assistants are on their team. It’s also possible that your case could be reassigned as it moves forward, so you should keep in regular contact for updates. A firm needs to be up front with you about how they are handling your case and who is handling it, or they will undermine your trust. A good accident attorney will give you a straight answer as to who you’ll be working with and the benefits they offer.
How will I communicate with your firm?
Choosing a smaller firm means you might be lucky enough to be in regular contact with your personal injury lawyer. With larger firms, it’s more likely that you’ll work with a case manager or legal assistant. Regardless, you should always make it clear right away that you want to know who your main point of contact will be. Having a specific person to talk to can make getting updates much easier. Additionally, confirm if and how often the firm will reach out to you to provide updates, or if you’ll need to contact them. Reputable accident lawyers will talk to you at regular intervals. If they drop out of contact and you can’t reach them, it might be time to look for a new firm.
How likely is it that my case will go to trial?
It is important to find out if your prospective attorney thinks that your case will go to litigation. “They can give you the statistics for their firm, like if they only go to trial in one percent of cases altogether versus filing on thirty percent and going to trial for ten,” says Rick Park. This discussion can help you with decisions about your future strategy.
Trials are a lengthy and costly process, and while your attorney will do everything possible to settle your case before trial, sometimes it’s not possible. Time consuming litigation makes many people choose to settle their cases early even when a larger settlement might be possible after a trial. If going to court isn’t a problem for you, you’ll also want to make sure your potential personal injury attorney has experience in the court room and knows the ins and outs of the litigation process. Sometimes even threat of a trial causes insurance companies to settle, and a good lawyer knows when to make that threat, and when to act on it.
How long might this process take?
While most personal injury cases settle without going to trial, even those can take years for settlements to be reached. Don’t trust an attorney who promises a specific end-date, because they may cut corners with your case as that date approaches. The length of time depends on factors like the kind of medical treatment you need and the likelihood of litigation. An experienced car accident lawyer should be able to give a very rough estimate. These can be detailed estimates, but they should not be taken as a promise that everything will happen as they say it could potentially happen. Any timeframe is subject to change, and you should be ready for a potentially lengthy claim process.
What will I personally need to do?
Your relationship with your attorney is a two-way street, and they’ll need your help in developing your claim. It’s up to you how active a role you want to play, but there are times where your assistance will be needed, and your attorney should be able explain what this will look like. You’ll typically need to be available for regular communication over matters such as vehicle repairs, medical treatment, and your recovery status. Your attorney should also let you know if you’ll need to provide active assistance with matters like gathering records, speaking with witnesses, and working with your employer on a wage loss claim. The level of assistance they might need can change, especially if your case goes to trial, but it’s important that you and your attorney understand each other and that it’s clear what they’ll need from you.
Do you have clients I can talk to?
Client reviews are an easy way to gather information about a prospective attorney, and when you first meet you can always ask more questions based on those reviews. Additionally, many law firms will include client testimonials on their website. While they’re useful, they might be edited and phrased in such a way that they can hide certain less than favorable opinions. There’s never any harm in asking your prospective attorney to speak to current or former clients about their experiences. Talking to someone can be a more accurate source of information than written reviews, as they aren’t being mediated through a third party. Clients may not want to talk about their cases, but if a law firm won’t provide you with anyone to talk to it’s possible that they have a track record they want to hide.
We know accidents are stressful, and that finding a good personal injury attorney can be stressful too. These are just some of the questions you can ask when you first meet with an attorney. The answers can help you find the right accident lawyer for your specific case. You want to work with an attorney who is honest, diligent, open to talking with you, and who will answer your questions in a way you understand. We here at Park Chenaur and Associates have many years of experience in cases of all