Hiring a Personal Injury Lawyer

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Personal injury cases are important, because they are just that, personal. When you suffer an injury and do not receive fair compensation from the company or individual who hurt you, or enough medical coverage from the insurance company involved, going to court becomes the best option to right their wrongs. On the flip side, you may be wrongfully sued in a personal injury case. At the end of the day, injury case can cost or save you substantial amounts of money, time, and energy.

Why We’re Asking:

This week, we are wondering about how to go about hiring a personal injury for your specific case. We want to know how to be equipped to choose the best personal injury attorney. Since these cases are typically of a sensitive nature, we want to know how much money to spend, if specialties matter, and what red flags to be aware of. To get the most complete answer, we’re turning to our panel of legal professionals.

So it’s time to weigh in:

When do I need a personal injury lawyer?

How much does a personal injury lawyer cost? How much should I pay?

Are there specialty personal injury lawyers?

What should I ask a personal injury lawyer before I hire him?

We’re excited to hear back from our legal professionals. Check back later in the week to see what advice they have to give about hiring a personal injury lawyer!

Post your answers in the comment field below!

6 COMMENTS

  1. Personal injury law is a specialty. Many states, including Arizona, have standards that have to be met, including a written examination before a lawyer can call himself a personal injury specialist.
    You need a personal injury lawyer if you have received anything more than a minor injury in a vehicle crash or any other personal injury. The insurance companies have lawyers, and know the law. You need an experienced lawyer on your side to guide you through the confusing web of laws, health insurance repayment requirements and the difficult task of case evaluation. The insurance company will never be “fair.” That word is not in the claims manual.
    Costs and fees need to be discussed, but generally personal injury lawyers work on a contingent fee meaning their fee is a % of case value. No recovery means no fee for the lawyer. Even with contingent fees ranging from 25%-40% depending on the complexity of the case, the client is always better off when represented by a competent personal injury practitioner.
    Always ask about experience. Experience counts. Trial experience counts. Experience with the type of case you have counts. The honest practitioner will tell you if he or she is in over their head.
    There are specialty personal injury lawyers. Some only handle medical malpractice cases. Some only take “catastrophic injury” cases. All of them should tell you where the comfort zone begins and ends.
    The most important factor is trust and rapport. If you feel you have a good rapport, and can trust the lawyer you interview, trust your instincts.
    While the internet is becoming an increasingly reliable tool to find a personal injury lawyer, the best way is, and always has been a referral from a satisfied client.
    Leighton Rockafellow has been a certified specialist in injury and wrongful death since 1991, the first year the specialty was offered by the State Bar of Arizona.

  2. Personal injury lawyers cover matters from dog bites to medical malpractice to securities lawsuits to patent litigation and then some. The type of injury you sustain determines which personal injury lawyer you should hire. Let’s be honest: you wouldn’t go to a foot doctor for heart surgery. So you have to match the specialization of the lawyer with the facts of your case. The days of the generalist in medicine or law who did everything are long gone. This is because the degree of knowledge required to handle specific matters varies greatly. So with that in mind, the answer to the questions (below) are as follows:

    When do I need a personal injury lawyer?: If you have been injured as a result of someone either not doing something they should have or doing something wrong, and if your matter involves an injury which is significant in terms of dollars, then you should look for a personal injury lawyer.

    How much does a personal injury lawyer cost? How much should I pay? A personal injury lawyer generally takes a case on a contingency basis (no upfront fees; pay only a percentage of what you win if you win). So any lawyer who works for a percentage instead of upfront fees requires the case have enough potential monetary recovery to make it worth their time to “bet” on getting paid. So both a strong case and a decent potential dollar settlement are necessary to get their interest.

    Another aspect of charges are the costs of litigating a case. Some lawyers will ask for the client to pay the costs of the case (ie fees for experts, fedex, copies, court reporters, etc.) while others will take the case costs out of the recovery. This is always something you should ask up front: “How do you handle case costs? Am I expected to pay those fees upfront or will you pay them and not charge me if I don’t win?” Either way, if a recovery is obtained, costs will always be subtracted along with lawyers fees before any money is paid out to the client. Some lawyers also ask for partial or full up front fees. Hybrid payment arrangements are not unusual and depend on the strength of the case and the lawyers willingness (or financial ability) to risk his/her salary or costs at that time.

    The big plaintiffs firms mostly work on full contingency fees because they have large reserves for funding the cases. One usually sees hybrid fee arrangements from smaller firms without the financial cushion or from law firms that are not usually in the plaintiff business (ie they usually get paid hourly fees and don’t have the risk tolerance that experienced plaintiff’s attorneys have).

    Finally, if a case is expected to have massive costs such as in patent cases or class actions, then a lawyer oftentimes seeks litigation funding and the costs of borrowing those funds may be passed on to you, the consumer. So lawyers who handle run of the mill cases like auto accidents, dog bites, medical malpractice and traditional areas of plaintiffs law generally do not charge up front fees. Cases which are more expensive or lawyers who are not as well funded or convinced of the high probability of success of a case will probably require upfront fees or hybrid fee arrangements.

    Are there specialty personal injury lawyers? Absolutely. Lawyers advertise their specialties or list them on their websites. If there is only one lawyer in the firm and there are 20 specialties, you can expect them to either refer the case to other lawyers for a “referral fee” (essentially a fee for sending them the case – which is approximately 1/3 of what the lawyer who does the work makes) or you can expect their knowledge to be limited and shallow. Beware of the plaintiffs lawyer who professes to know it all!

    What should I ask a personal injury lawyer before I hire him? You should always ask if that lawyer has handled other matters like yours. Ask for detailed information about that case including the results. Ask how long that lawyer has handled matters in that area and try to get him/her to speak about how many cases or the size of the cases they’ve handled in the area. Make sure you check the website or the State Bar for the areas of law that lawyer claims to know. You can also ask if there are special certifications for the type of law they practice. Some State Bars offer classes that designate a lawyer as a “certified specialist” in a particular area of law. On another note, you need to ask specifics about their fee arrangement ie whether case costs are forgiven if you lose or if you will have to pay them regardless of recovery. Ask them for an estimate in percentage of case costs and then add that into the retainer agreement. Ask how they bill costs (ie do they charge you .10c for .10c of cost or do they charge you .25c for a .10c copy. I would also ask them to give you some estimation of time and what is involved in a case such as yours. What you can expect. Oftentimes clients think the process is very different than it really is and if they had been told upfront about the time or expense, some say they may not have pursued a case or pursued it differently.

    Being informed is always important. But always be respectful. Remember, you’re asking them to work hard without getting paid for a potentially long time. You’re asking them to gamble on you. So being informed is important. Being overly aggressive like you would if you were buying a used car is probably not going to get you very far.

  3. One of the most overlooked aspects of the time period of hiring a Personal Injury attorney is that there are steps that should simultaneously be taken to preserve your claims. This can be divided into two main objectives:

    (1) Be aware of the statute of limitations. If you spend too much time looking for an attorney, you may lose out on your ability to start a lawsuit, no matter who you hire. Although many jurisdictions allow for a three year period in which to start an negligence action, there are often periods as short as 90 days for a person to give notice of a claim if suing a municipality or State entity. Make sure to find an attorney as expeditiously as possible so as to avoid the lapsing of any time restriction.

    (2) Get medical treatment for any injuries. Failure to get the proper medical attention is bad for both medical and legal purposes. A person’s chance of a healthy physical recovery might drop drastically if injuries go untreated. Legally, the medical records often serve as the foundation for a claim. Failure to get treatment and document the injuries can delay or hinder a the initiation of the lawsuit.

    While choosing a lawyer based on their professionalism, responsiveness and reputation are important, one should not forget that there are steps that need to be taken simultaneously to, and which might hasten your finding a good attorney.

  4. How much does a personal injury lawyer cost? How much should I pay?
    Personal injury lawyers will generally work on a fee contingency basis. A contingency fee is essentially a percentage of the award as their fee. In this case, if they lose, they do not receive any compensation. However, you may still be held responsible for certain fees like the filing fee for your lawsuit. It is important to discuss the fee protocol with your lawyer before moving forward so there are no surprises. You want to be aware of the percentage of your award that they will be claiming.
    What should I ask a personal injury lawyer before I hire him?
    As with anything else, you want to hire a professional that specializes in the type of work you want performed. Be sure to ask about their specialties, experience with cases similar to yours and the outcome of such cases, how long the case will take, who will work on your case beyond your attorney, how the fee structure works, what information the attorney will need from you, and how prompt are you at returning phone calls.

  5. When do I need a personal injury lawyer?
    When you are hurt by a person or company and they do not compensate you properly to take care of your injuries, you need to file a lawsuit and hire a personal injury lawyer. Likewise, personal injury laws vary by location and situation. You are likely unfamiliar with the laws that pertain to your unique personal injury claim. It is far more effective to hire a personal injury lawyer than trying to look up the laws on your own. The professional can help you interpret the laws and apply them to your case.
    Are there specialty personal injury lawyers?
    Yes, a medical malpractice lawyer is very different from a personal injury lawyer who specializes in auto accidents. It is beneficial to inquire about the type of cases that they specialize in. This specified experience typically delivers better results.
    What should I ask a personal injury lawyer before I hire him?
    When hiring a lawyer, ask as many questions as possible before giving them your case. I have listed some good questions to ask below:
    How long have you been practicing personal injury law?
    How much experience do you have with my type of case?
    During your career, have you been more likely to represent insurance companies or the injured party?
    What is your trial experience?
    Would you accept my case on a contingency basis?

  6. There is already a great deal of advice on how to hire a personal injury lawyer, but I am going to address when not to work with a personal injury lawyer. You do not want to work with a personal injury lawyer who usually represents insurance companies, rather than injured parties. They would not have the level of competence you would want for your case. It is also inadvisable to work with a lawyer who wants the fee upfront, it is far better for the client to work on a retainer or contingency basis. I also advise you to feel out if the lawyer is planning to honor your wishes. If there is an option to go to trial and you would like to go to trial, you will want an attorney who will respect this decision.

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