You need to hire a personal injury lawyer if you suffer an injury that results in significant damages. But in any given city, there are probably over 20 pages of personal injury attorney listings in the phone book. How do you pick the right one? What do you look for? What questions should you ask?
Here are 7 things you should know before hiring your injury lawyer...
1) The sooner you hire your lawyer the better. Begin looking for your personal injury lawyer within a week or two after your accident. If you're not physically capable you should have a friend or loved-one start looking. The sooner you start building your case the better.
2) Hire a personal injury lawyer that specializes in your specific type of injuries. Do your homework before signing the retainer agreement. Visit the firm's website and read up on it's history and each lawyer's biographical information. Ask the lawyer for some referrences and ask how much experience they have in handling cases with similar injuries. What settlement awards did they get in those cases?
3) Have a face-to-face meeting with your prospective lawyer. Your personal injury lawyer is going to be your closest advisor during this difficult time. You must feel comfortable and trust your lawyer. The only way you'll get a feel for the lawyer is by having a sit-down to discuss your case. Any good personal injury lawyer will give you an initial consultation free of charge.
4) Hire a lawyer that will take your case on a contingency fee basis. This means that your lawyer won't get paid unless you get paid. He will take his fee out of the money you receive for your injuries. You can expect your lawyer to take about 33% of your final settlement - that's after expenses are taken off the top. Make sure you clearly understand the payment structure before you sign the retainer agreement.
5) Beware of ambulance chasers. The goal of these lawyers is to get lots of minor personal injury cases and settle them quickly - they make their profit from high turnover. So naturally they won't put as much time and effort into each case as they should. (If you're looking for a quick settlement be prepared to accept less than what your case is really worth.)
6) Hire a lawyer with a good Martindale-Hubbell rating. This service evaluates lawyers in the U.S. and Canada based on peer review. Their website, Martindale.com has a helpful lawyer locator service and will explain the rating system.
7) Always be completely open and honest when discussing your case with a lawyer. Tell the lawyer as much as you can about what happened. Try to remember every detail. Any documentation and pictures you have of your injuries and treatment will be a big help when evaluating your case.
8) NEVER give a recorded statement to a representative from any insurance company until you've consulted a lawyer. When the rep. asks for one simply say, "I'm not prepared to give a statement at this time." A recorded statement can be used as evidence and if you're not prepared you might overlook important details. Anything you miss (or misrepresent) can be used against you in settlement negotiations and in the trial.
Arthur Gueli works with his brother Charles (a licensed personal injury attorney) teaching injured plaintiffs how to obtain fair compensation for their damages.