Not all attorneys are created equal. The truth is that many attorneys lack the passion, experience and ability to fully represent the interests of their clients in a personal injury matter. That is, in order to receive the full value for your injuries and damages, it is imperative that you find a personal injury attorney who has your best interests in mind. If you do, chances are that you will have a long and beneficial relationship.
When and if you are injured through the negligence of another, these are some of the qualities you should look for in an accident attorney:
So, now that you know the qualities to look for, how do you get this type of information. First, remember to have a healthy bit of skepticism. Personal Injury attorneys are trying to sell themselves. Yes they are professionals, and yes they are for the most part hard working, but they are in business and there is a tremendous amount of competition. Trust what the attorney tells you, but try to verify.
Here are the 14 killer questions to ask of every personal injury attorney.
1. How long have you been practicing law as a licensed attorney?
There is something to be said for youth and enthusiasm, but there is also a lot to be said for experience. After 28 years of practice, I can honestly say that I am not the same attorney I was when I started and like a fine wine I have improved with age. This is not the be all and end all. Some attorneys who have been practicing for years are simply bored with what they do and have lost their passion. This is just an indicator of what depth of experience the attorney has.
2. Has your license ever been suspended or revoked?
This is a red flag. There may be a very good reason why an attorney has had their license suspended or revoked. If so, ask about the situation. What caused it and how has the situation been fixed? Trust your gut and it the explanation doesn’t ring true, then it’s time to find someone else.
3. How long have you been practicing as a personal injury plaintiff attorney?
Just because you have been practicing patent law for 20 years doesn’t mean you know a lot about personal injury. And it is not enough that you have been representing insurance companies for 15 years. There is a world of difference between defending a personal injury case and representing the injured victim. You may get some insight into how a case should be handled, but the only true way to become a great trial attorney is to actually be in the trenches and fight for justice.
4. What percentage of your practice is related to personal injury and wrongful death cases?
My mother once told me it is better to be an expert in one area than a jack of all trades. If an attorney is dedicated to the representation of injured victims he or she will have very little time for anything else. The quest for justice for injured people is time consuming. Dealing with other areas of the law and being knowledgeable about each individual area is exhausting. I would rather be great at one thing then good at many. When it comes to my attorney, I want him to be great at my case and care less about anything else.
5. How many court and jury trials have you handled? What are your results?
There is a reason that personal injury attorneys are called trial attorneys. It’s because they are willing to go to court and find justice. If a personal injury attorney simply tries to negotiate every deal, then the insurance carriers will shortly figure this out and will low-ball every offer. That means that as the client you will not get full value for your damages. On the other hand, if your attorney has a successful track record, the insurance company will know and will not want to be the next victim in court. However, be wary of an attorney that says he has never lost. This means that he isn’t willing to go out on a limb and fight for every case. An attorney who has never lost has never experienced the anguish that comes with it and is unwilling to go to the ends of the earth to win for you. Having tried and lost cases, I can tell you it is an experience I do my very best not to relive. I will work myself to the bone to provide the very best representation so I never have to taste defeat again.
6. Who will I be dealing with? Can I speak with you, or will my case be handled by someone else?
You want your attorney to be accessible and knowledgeable about your case. It is fine to have a paralegal or associate work on the case, but you are hiring the attorney for his experience, not his staff or underlings. If you are simply meeting with a suit and the case will be handed off to someone else, maybe you are talking to the wrong person. Why did you just spend twenty minutes going through the first five questions when the person answering the questions will not be handling your case?
7. How are you rated by your peers? Can you provide me with anything to support this?
There are lots of services that rate attorneys. Some are good, some not so good. A good attorney will be able to show you how he or she has been rated. However, be careful that the rating is independent of any payment. Anyone can pay to be in the “Top 10 Attorneys” list. It is another matter to not be able to buy your way to the top. In addition, you should be careful that the attorney is not just under the umbrella of a firm and given the rating by proxy. A law firm can have great attorneys and poor attorneys. You want your attorney to be great.
8. Are you an active member (not just paying dues) to any trial lawyer associations?
There must be hundreds of trial lawyer associations. Attorneys, like all professionals can simply pay dues to be a member of an organization. Such things are in reality meaningless. On the other hand, active participation in an organization shows a degree of concern and interest. Does the attorney actively participate on the Boards or Associations or committees of trial lawyer groups? Does she work for organizations that support areas of interest in the community? For example does the attorney work for Mothers Against Drunk Drives, or similar community based organizations. Hopefully, the attorney does not finish her day at work and then just go home. Hopefully, the attorney gives back to the community.
9. Can you provide me with the names of references that I can contact?
If an attorney is good, then his former clients should speak well of him. After 28 years of practice, I have many former clients who have returned, and more importantly have sent me their friends and relatives to represent. These former clients are obviously pleased with the representation provided and will be happy to speak to potential clients. If an attorney cannot provide positive references, then there may be a real problem.
10. Do you have any testimonials about your services?
Just like references, testimonials from both peers and clients will give you an indication of how the attorney has done in the past. Some attorneys are great, but are not well liked by their peers. This is an area that should be evaluated. It may be jealousy, or it may be that the attorney is simply not a nice person. The absence of peer reviews is an indicator. In addition, former clients who have written reviews and testimonials are ready and willing to permanently say how they feel . This shows a level of trust and confidence that should be considered.
11. Have you been recognized by anyone or any association for your representation?
An attorney who has been practicing for many years has probably handled some difficult cases. These type of cases can be recognized for the effort that it takes to bring them from the beginning to trial or ultimate result. These types of cases are important because they let you know that this is an attorney that is willing to fight for you. Any decent attorney can handle your basic auto rear end case, but does this attorney have the ability to truly fight for the full value of your case? An attorney that has been recognized for his or her representation in the past is evidence of the extent to which this attorney will go to represent you. It is also an indication that the attorney will go out there and fight as opposed to just settling for the last offer.
12. Will you be able to look me in the eye and tell me the truth about my case and not just tell me what I want to hear?
Not all attorneys are good at answering the hard questions. Some don’t deal well with bad facts or issues and won’t tell you “the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.” If after talking with an attorney you don’t have a feeling of complete trust, then it is time to find a new attorney. I have found that for me, I tell every client that I will answer any question fully and completely with the unvarnished truth. I tell my clients that I do this partly because it is the way I was raised and partly because I am not smart enough to remember any partial truth that I may tell. As a result, I simply tell the whole truth and will explain exactly why things are the way they are. I sleep better this way. You want your attorney to be completely honest with you even with bad information.
13. Will you be able to fully account for all settlement funds?
It is not enough to simply give a client a check and say here you go. A good attorney will account for every last penny and will show you specifically where the funds came from and where they were spent. An attorney acts as a “fiduciary” that is one of trust. If the attorney will not fully account for the funds spent and received on your case then you may have an issue.
14. What do you need me to do during the case?
I view the attorney client relationship as a partnership. You and your attorney are working towards a common goal. This means that you will need to communicate and consult on numerous issues during the case. For me it means that in order to explain how you have been affected by the accident, I need to get to know you. I need to learn your story. Anyone can relate the facts of an accident and the medical history. It is quite another thing to be able to tell your client’s story and the consequences. This requires a real relationship and an attorney that doesn’t want anything from you won’t know your story. This attorney will not be able to fully understand the impact he accident has had on your life and therefore can truly negotiate a resolution for the full value of your damages.