In some fairly rare scenarios, it might be a good idea to handle a personal injury claim on your own—when your injuries are minor and you’re comfortable dealing with the at-fault party’s insurance company, for example. But if you’ve been seriously injured in an accident, or if the other side is being contentious right out of the gate, you’ll probably want to put your personal injury case in the hands of an experienced attorney. You shouldn’t turn to just any lawyer for help; look for someone who has experience handling your type of case—and who you feel that you can trust.
Finding Experienced Lawyers
There are several ways to get referrals to experienced plaintiffs’ personal injury lawyers. Once you get referrals, be sure to comparison-shop. Get the names of several lawyers and talk or meet with each of them to discuss your claim before you decide to hire someone. And be prepared for rejection. Many lawyers do not take cases if they fall below a certain potential recovery amount, or if the claim is not crystal clear.
Here’s where to look for referrals:
Friends and Acquaintances
Talk with friends or coworkers who have been represented by a lawyer in their own personal injury claims. If a friend or coworker says good things to you about a lawyer, but the lawyer is on your list of people to consult. But do not make a decision about a lawyer solely on the basis of someone else’s recommendation. Different people will have different responses to a lawyer’s style and personality; don’t make up your mind about hiring a lawyer until you’ve met the lawyer, discussed your case, and decided that you feel comfortable working with him or her.
Nolo’s Lawyer Directory
Nolo offers two ways to find an attorney. You can use the Online Chat features on this page to connect with attorneys who might be able to help you. Nolo also offers a unique lawyer directory that provides a comprehensive profile for each attorney with information that will help you select the right attorney. The profiles tell you about the lawyer’s experience, education, and fees. (Learn more about how personal injury lawyers get paid.) Nolo has confirmed that every listed attorney has a valid license and is in good standing with their bar association.
Most local bar associations have referral services in which the names of lawyers are available, arranged by legal specialty. There is a wide variation in the quality of lawyer referral services, however, even though they are supposed to be approved by the state bar association. Some lawyer referral services carefully screen attorneys and list only those with particular qualifications and a certain amount of past experience, while other services will list any attorney in good standing with the state bar, as long as the attorney maintains liability insurance. Before you choose a lawyer referral service, ask what its qualifications are for including an attorney and how carefully lawyers are screened.
What you may not get from any lawyer referral service, however, is an insight into the lawyer’s philosophy—for instance, whether the lawyer is willing to spend a few hours to be your legal coach, or how aggressive the lawyer’s personality is. Don’t make a decision about a bar referral lawyer until you have met and interviewed him or her.
Choosing the Best Lawyer for You
To find out whether a lawyer is right for you, sit down with the lawyer to discuss your claim and possible ways of handling it. Bring copies of all your documents: police report, medical records and bills, income loss information, and all correspondence with the insurance company. Most lawyers do not charge anything for an initial consultation. But before you meet with a lawyer, find out whether he or she will charge you for the first interview. If the lawyer wants to charge you just for discussing whether or not to take your case, go somewhere else.
After you tell the lawyer generally what your case is about, there are a few basic things you’ll want to find out from the lawyer:
- How long has the lawyer been in practice?
- Roughly what percentage of the lawyer’s practice involves personal injury cases?
- Does the lawyer most often represent plaintiffs or defendants? You do not want to be represented by someone who has experience with personal injury cases but who has primarily been a lawyer for defendants. Their way of thinking maybe too closely tied to the attitudes of insurance companies and they might not fight as hard—consciously or not—for your claim.
- Would the lawyer personally handle your case or pass it along to another (perhaps less experienced) lawyer in the office? It’s normal for more than one attorney in an office to work on the same case and to have less experienced attorneys handle routine tasks. Find out which lawyer would have responsibility for the case and which lawyer you would be dealing with directly. If there is to be another lawyer directly involved, ask to meet that lawyer, too.
After you have discussed the facts of your case and the history of your settlement negotiations with the insurance company, you may be able to get some sense from the lawyer about how much your personal injury case is worth, and how difficult it may be to get the insurance company to pay that amount. This is when you should let the lawyer know which of the following you want him or her to do for you:
- obtain a certain settlement amount for you with as few costs and as little hassle as possible
- obtain an amount higher than what the insurance company has offered as soon as possible, or
- obtain as much as possible, no matter how long it takes.
If you feel confident with the lawyer’s experience and comfortable with his or her idea of how to proceed with your case, chances are good that you’ve found a lawyer you can work with.
Learn more about what to ask a potential personal injury lawyer.
Information about Paying and Managing Your Lawyer
Once you’ve found a lawyer that you like, your job isn’t entirely done. You’ll need to create a clear, written fee agreement and then keep in contact with your lawyer as your case is progressing. For tips on working with your personal injury lawyer, see How to Win Your Personal Injury Claim, by Joseph Matthews (Nolo). Also, the eBook The Lawsuit Survival Guide: A Client’s Companion to Litigation, by Joseph Matthews (Nolo), has detailed information on choosing and working with a lawyer.