When you’re injured or you’ve lost someone you love to an accident, a personal injury attorney can help you get the compensation you’re entitled to to pay bills, cover medical expenses, make up for loss of income and companionship, and more. But most people only have to choose a personal injury lawyer once in their lives, if that, so you may not know the best way to go about finding one.
Don’t just call the first number you see on a billboard. Ask around your community to see if you can find some attorneys with good reputations. Narrow down your search by researching your chosen attorneys online, contacting your state bar association, and having some preliminary consultations. Before you agree to sign on with a personal injury attorney, make sure you understand how the attorney will be paid in the event you win a settlement, go to trial, or lose your case.
Just because a firm has the money to plaster their name on a billboard doesn’t mean that they’re the best attorneys for you. Do you know friends and family who have used a personal injury lawyer in the past? Ask them who they used. Get referrals through friends and neighbors, or by asking your pastor or other community leader.
Research Attorney Reputations Online
Once you’ve found three to five local attorneys that you’re interested in possibly working with, research their reputations online. Check out the firm’s social media presence – if people have beef with an attorney, they’ll leave bad reviews on Facebook or Google. Look for an attorney with good online reviews.
You should also look up your attorneys’ websites. While it’s true that a website doesn’t necessarily mean a lawyer is skilled and experienced, you can find information on a firm’s website that will tell you how experienced and skilled a specific attorney might be. For example, a Clearwater car accident lawyer might use his or her website to list settlements and verdicts he or she has won in favor of past clients.
Call Your State Bar Association
You want to avoid hiring an attorney who has a history of engaging in unethical behavior. To do so, contact your state bar association to check up on the attorneys you’re considering to make sure they haven’t been reprimanded or disciplined for unethical behavior unbefitting a professional. Cross any attorneys with less-than-clean records off your list.
Have Some Consultations
Once you’ve found some attorneys with good experience and clean professional records, it’s time to schedule consultations. Usually, the first consultation with an attorney is free, so you can meet with all the attorneys on your list. Some of them may even be willing to meet with you in your hospital room to get started on your case as soon as possible.
You can consult with attorneys in person or over the phone, but it’s preferable to go in person to their office for a consultation. That’s because you’ll get a glimpse of how they run their business – is the building nice, or dilapidated? Are things clean? Do they seem adequately staffed and well-organized? Has the attorney you’re meeting with got his or her paperwork in order? These are the things you should consider when you have your initial consultation with a personal injury lawyer.
Don’t be afraid to ask the tough questions when you consult with an attorney. Make sure the attorney you’re meeting with has experience litigating your specific kind of personal injury case – most lawyers specialize in one or a few subspecialties under the personal injury umbrella, such as car or truck accidents, medical malpractice, or dog bites. Ask what percentage of the attorney’s business comes from referrals – this will give you an idea of the attorney’s reputation among other attorneys. Ask the attorney who will be working on the case, how long it should take, whether he or she thinks it might go to trial, whether he or she has experience taking cases to trial, and whether he or she has ever been disciplined by the bar for unprofessional or unethical behavior.
Understand the Fee Structure Before You Sign Anything
Before you agree to work with an attorney, make sure you understand how he or she plans to get paid. Most personal injury lawyers work on contingency, so they take a share of your settlement or award money. You should ask how much you’ll owe if you lose your case (although most personal injury lawyers won’t take a case they don’t think they can win). Also ask what percentage of your settlement or award the lawyer will take (33 percent is normal) and whether you’ll pay court fees off the top, or after your attorney has taken his or her cut.
The choice of a personal injury attorney is one of the most important decisions you’ll ever make in your life. Take it seriously, and get an attorney who can get you the money you deserve.