Browsing the internet looking for personal injury lawyers can be overwhelming. There are so many options and all the attorneys quickly start looking the same. Figuring out who to hire is a challenge. Because you are injured and this is an important decision, you want to gather some information and make the best selection possible. This article is not an advertisement. It is provided to you for free to assist you in selecting the right lawyer for your case, whether that is the Law Offices of Rice & Bloomfield, nor another attorney.
Unfortunately, when starting the process of selecting an injury attorney, the injury lawyers that come to mind are the ones that do the most advertising. Those firms are generally personal injury mills referring cases to other attorneys or using minimum wage staff to handle the cases. Personal injury lawyer mills handle a huge number of cases and process them all through their system without personal attention from a lawyer.
CHOOSING THE RIGHT LAWYER:
Things to look for in choosing the right injury lawyer:
Free consultation: The initial consultation should be free and relatively easy to schedule. If the attorney is not available to meet with you for two months, that attorney is too busy to handle your case.
Can you meet with your lawyer? Meet with the lawyer, not staff, a paralegal, or associate. Many personal injury law offices are just mills that churn through clients with no personal care. When you go for a consultation, will you be meeting with the senior lawyer handling your case, or will you be pawned off on a paralegal, secretary, or other staff member? If you cannot get the senior attorney’s attention at the start, you will likely never speak with the lawyer, and that lawyer will likely never work on your case. How your initial consultation is handled is a strong indication of how your case will be handled. If the attorney you expect to handle your case does not meet with you, he or she is also not likely to personally handle your case. During the meeting, is the attorney willing to answer your questions, or is the attorney trying to rush you out of the office? Be respectful of the attorney’s time, but make sure the attorney is respectful of you.
What is the office like? Go to the attorney’s office. The attorney may offer to come to you. However, unless you are seriously injured, take the time to go to the attorney’s office. If the attorney is working out of a Starbucks, you should consider a better established firm. If the office is a mess with papers everywhere, the lawyer is probably not well-organized. The attorney’s office makes a statement, not just to you, but to the insurance adjuster or defense lawyer working against you. The office does not need to be opulent, but you should get a sense that the attorney is successful. That is part of what you want in a lawyer. Also, if the lawyer comes to you, you will likely not meet with the lawyer, but will meet with a sign-up agent who works for many different lawyers, spending the day getting clients to sign retainers. You will not get any meaningful information about the lawyer or the law firm from such a meeting.
Is the attorney available? Can you get the potential lawyer on the phone? It is fine to have office staff handle the initial phone call to obtain basic facts about your case, but if you ask to speak with the lawyer, you should be able to do so. If a lawyer is too busy to return your call, you and your case are not sufficiently important to him or her.
What is the attorney’s experience? Experience counts. How long has that attorney been practicing? If the attorney passed the bar and was licensed to practice law last year, that is probably not enough experience to handle your case. Let that attorney learn and grow by handling other people’s cases. You want someone who has already been around the block and knows what they are doing.
Stability matters. You want an attorney with a stable office. If the attorney has been with 8 firms in the last six years, there is a problem there somewhere. If the secretaries and other staff are all new, that is a sign there are problems in the office.
Does the attorney actually have trial experience? Are you speaking with a trial lawyer? Most cases do settle, but what happens if the insurance company low- balls you? If your attorney does not try cases, the insurance company will know it and will offer less money than if it was concerned about litigation. The attorney who does not try cases will try to convince you to accept the low settlement. You want an attorney who has substantial trial experience and a reputation for trying cases. That is an attorney who will either get the insurance company to be fair or take them to court on your behalf. Look for things like American Board of Trial Advocacy (ABOTA) membership to show that your attorney has both extensive trial experience and respect from other attorneys.
Does your attorney focus on injury cases? Does the attorney dabble in personal injury work in addition to his or her busy practice of criminal defense, divorces and family law, bankruptcy, and real estate law? Look for an attorney who focuses on what you need. In California, attorneys are prohibited from stating that they specialize in personal injury law, but make sure that the attorney you hire practices in personal injury fields which may include automobile and truck crashes, slip and falls, pedestrians who are hit, medical malpractice, and motorcycle cases.
Is the lawyer a leader in the personal injury field? Some lawyers have reached a level of skill and success such that other attorneys look to them for advice and assistance. Look for attorneys who publish articles or lecture on personal injury and litigation subjects. Not only are these attorneys likely to know their stuff, but they will also have the respect of defense attorneys and judges. That respect and authority will pay off to your benefit when they represent you.
Does the attorney keep up to date? While the state requires that attorneys complete minimum continuing education requirement, the key word there is “minimum.” Does the attorney complete the bear minimum requirement to satisfy the state bar, or does the attorney aggressively pursue education to keep current in the field. Because there is rapid development relating to studies of how juries make decisions, it is important that the attorney keep current on recent developments in trial advocacy.
Does the attorney use technology effectively? Technology is more than social media and word processing. Under California law, depositions may be videotaped. Does the attorney videotape all depositions? Does the attorney know how to use those depositions in trial? Does the attorney know how to create and use an effective multimedia presentation at trial, or does the attorney just stand there and talk? Video and images keep the jury alert and usually have a strong influence on their decision-making. Make sure that videotaped depositions and use of technology at trial is part of your attorney’s regular practice.
Check the attorney’s background: While far from the most important factor, where the attorney went to law school is probably some indication of the quality of the attorney’s training and skill. You probably won’t find a Harvard graduate, but higher-ranked schools such as UCLA, USC, and Loyola, are more likely to produce better lawyers than the University of La Verne, Golden Gate, or the Peoples College of Law.
Check for a Disciplinary Record: Although it is unlikely you will find anything alarming, it only takes a few seconds to check the California State Bar Web Site to see if an attorney has a disciplinary record. If the attorney seems perfect, but has been disciplined for mishandling client funds, you may want to keep looking. These are public records and can be found at http://members.calbar.ca.gov/fal/MemberSearch/QuickSearch.
Ask Questions When You Meet with the Lawyer: One of the most important parts of meeting with the lawyer and asking questions is listening to how the attorney answers. You are looking to see if the attorney seem knowledgeable and is able to answer your questions. However, you are also looking to see if your attorney can speak clearly and provide answers that make sense. That attorney may one day be representing you in front of a jury. If they cannot form a sentence they probably cannot be effective in trial. Also, make sure to ask the attorney who else will be working on your case and how much personal involvement the attorney will have. Make sure that the attorney will really be handling your case. Be wary of the attorney who explains that they “oversee” every aspect of the handling of your claim, as opposed to actually handling your case.
How Much Is My Case Worth? In fairness to lawyers you are interviewing, this is usually not a question that can be answered early in the case. The attorney has just met you, has not spoken with any witnesses, has not seen any medical records, and probably does not understand what your injuries are. It is just too soon to answer that question. However, it may be worth asking. You should be concerned about any attorney willing to promise results or make claims about great things they will do for you, when they do not have enough information.
Don’t Be Pressured into Hiring that Lawyer: Expect the lawyer to present you with a retainer agreement during that first meeting. Make sure the attorney is comfortable explaining the terms to you and is willing to answer any questions you may have about the contract. You should not feel pressured into signing the agreement. However, you should also not be too concerned about it, because you have the right to change lawyers. Any attorney should explain that you always have the right to change lawyers at any time. Changing lawyers will not result in any extra fees to you. We always tell potential clients that it is our job to earn your business every day that we represent you.
Go with Your Gut: This may be one of the most important tools you have in selecting a lawyer. Even if you cannot put your finger on it, if you walk away from your encounter with a lawyer feeling uneasy, icky or gross, that is not the lawyer for you. On the other hand, if you feel like the attorney is smart and cares about you and your case, you will probably be in good hands.
Protect Yourself While You Are Deciding: See our article: Protecting Yourself After a Collision. Like this article, Protecting Yourself After a Collision is not an advertisement for the Law Offices of Rice & Bloomfield. It is full of useful information to make sure you protect yourself and your rights while you are selecting the right attorney for you.