I've heard too many horror stories of so-called injury law firms that will wreck a good case, never call their clients back, or just don't know what they're doing and let a good case can get destroyed. Most of the time, it's too late for me to intervene and fix it. If everyone asked us lawyers these questions, there would be better results, much happier clients, and lawyers might even have better reputations. Here are the 10 questions I wish everyone would ask before hiring an injury lawyer:
1. Are you a lawyer or an intake salesman? Seems crazy right? Make sure the person on the phone telling you what legal rights you have is an actual lawyer who is qualified to give that advice. Intake guys are just salesman that will say and promise anything to get a case signed up.
2. How much courtroom or trial experience do you have? Many lawyers for the big volume firms are glorified claims adjusters with little to no actual courtroom experience. Make sure the lawyer you pick has experience trying cases in front of a jury, presenting arguments in front of a judge, and understands what real litigation is like.
3. How long have you been in practice and have you handled cases like this one before? Every case is different, and that's why experience is so necessary. Understanding how case values change based on certain variables is critical. Experience can affect everything from how long a case takes, when to send a demand, how much to settle for, advocating for the best medical treatment, and how a case will stand up to extensive litigation. At the same time, I would be careful hiring an attorney that is fringing on retirement and out of touch with current trends and injury law.
4. What do your former clients have to say about your law firm? This question doesn't really need asking as one can Google an attorney and determine if they have a poor reputation based on their reviews. Read the good ones too, as the more accurate reviews tend to be more specific about how that attorney handles people going through such a difficult time.
5. Do other lawyers send you cases? This is so important because it speaks to their reputation in the legal community. If they are so good at what they do that other lawyers refer them cases and trust their former clients with that attorney, then that is a good sign. The good lawyers know who the good ones are and who the bad ones are.
6. What are some of your recent case results, settlements, and verdicts? This can be misleading but it is still relevant. It is valuable to know that they are capable of getting large verdicts or settlements but keep in mind if an attorney handles enough cases then eventually they will get big cases with big results – any lawyer can resolve a $10 million case for $1 million.
7. How long will this case take? These next two questions are important because they indicate how forthcoming a lawyer might be and whether they are capable of setting realistic expectations. Most pre-litigation cases take between 2-6 months to settle, whereas if a case has to be litigated it can take up to 1-2 years after that before going to trial. Ask the lawyer if this is a case that is likely to settle before filing suit or if this is one that will take a while.
8. How much is this case worth? So many lawyers will dodge this question but I love it. I like to give my clients a range of what cases settle for based on their treatment, their injuries, and the available policy limits from the insurance companies involved. Typically speaking, the worse the injury and damages, the bigger the number.
9. If medical expenses get too high, does the attorney get most or all that is left in the settlement? First of all a good lawyer will do everything they can to reduce medical expenses as much as possible. Second, If a case settles for a hypothetical $25,000 policy limits, and payback on medical liens is $20,000 then technically the attorney is entitled to the entire $5,000 difference because his/her fee would have been $8,333.33 (assuming a 33.333% attorney's fee). That would mean the client walks away with nothing. One of my mentors told me once to “NEVER walk away from the closing table with more money than your client even if you have to cut your fee by 98%.” We follow this practice wholeheartedly. It the above example, we would cut our fee to something like $2,400 and the client would get $2,600.
10. How easy is it to reach the lawyer handling my case? The number one bar complaint in every jurisdiction is that a lawyer won't return their client's calls. In the personal injury industry, it is even worse – whether it's the big high volume firms or the small firms with “general practitioners” that dabble in injury cases. Hire a law firm where the lawyer can be reached directly at their office or on their cell phone where they can even answer or text you back for quick updates or advice on how to proceed.