If you think you have a personal injury claim and you're considering hiring a lawyer, you may know that most offer a free initial consultation (usually an in-person meeting, sometimes over the phone) in which you can discuss the main points of your potential personal injury case and get to know a little about your prospective lawyer. Here's how to make the most of this opportunity.
Is the Lawyer Right for You, and For Your Case?
During this first meeting, you want to find out about the lawyer’s experience and competence, their willingness and ability to get the most value out of your case, and their personality. Learning these things will allow you to make an informed decision as to whether this is the right lawyer for you and your case. (Learn more about how a personal injury lawyer can make a difference in money and time.)
It's important to use this time wisely. Here are a few specific questions to ask your potential personal injury lawyer:
- What percentage of your caseload consists of personal injury?
- How many cases do you typically settle per year?
- How many cases have you tried in your career?
- How many cases have you tried in the last five years (this will allow you to know if the lawyer is still in the game or resting on past accomplishments)?
- How many cases do you (and the firm) have in suit right now?
- What is the largest personal injury settlement or verdict that you have ever had?
- Who will be handling my case? (What you're asking here is whether your case will be handled by the lawyer you are speaking with, or assigned to another lawyer in the firm. You also want to know whether a lawyer will be doing most of the work on the case, or whether a paralegal, legal assistant, or secretary will be playing a significant role in preparing the case.)
- What is your "game plan" for my case? What is the time frame for getting the case ready to make a demand and for getting the case ready to file a lawsuit? What documents and information will you need to get the case ready to make a demand?
- What are the main problems that you foresee with my case?
- What are the chances that the case can be settled without filing a personal injury lawsuit?
- How will you keep me informed of developments in my case?
- Do you return a client's calls the same day?
You want to really make sure you understand whether your lawyer and the firm are prepared to file a personal injury lawsuit and take your case all the way to trial if necessary. It's true that most personal injury claims settle before trial, or even before a lawsuit needs to be filed, but you absolutely must have a credible threat to go to trial to convince the insurance company to pay a fair personal injury settlement. If your lawyer is known throughout the insurance industry as a settler and non-trier of lawsuits, the insurer will never come to the negotiating table with top claim value. Insurers only pay top value when they have a legitimate fear of going to trial and losing.
Questions to Avoid
There is one question you probably should not bother asking at your initial consultation: “How much will I get for my personal injury claim?" You might think, how can I possibly not ask that question? That’s the key to the whole case! The answer is that without all necessary information regarding liability (fault for the underlying accident) and damages, no competent lawyer has any real idea as to what a case is worth.
Theoretically, the lawyer could say: "Well, assuming liability is clear, and you end up disabled for eight months, and your doctor says the entire length of your disability was caused by the injury, and the insurance company doesn’t have any video of you doing things that are inconsistent with your claims, your case would be worth in the range of XXX to YYY." But a good lawyer doesn’t want to spout any numbers at the outset, because if the "assumed" facts change, the numbers are sure to change right along with them.
Get more tips on finding and working with the right personal injury lawyer.