14 of the Best Questions to Ask When Hiring a Personal Injury Lawyer
After suffering a serious injury due to someone’s wrongdoing or negligence, a person may think about contacting a lawyer. What they might not realize is that not every personal injury lawyer is necessarily the best suited to handle their case. People can — and should — shop around for professionals they feel comfortable with and who are the best fit for their unique situation.
At Santana Law Firm, we welcome questions from clients who are trying to make sure they find the right lawyer to help them make the best of an unfortunate situation and achieve the best possible outcome. If you’re just starting on your search, here are 14 questions worth asking during an initial consultation with an attorney to find out if they’re a good choice for you.
What do you charge and how does your fee structure work?
One of the most important things to clear up right away is what you can expect to pay and how you will be expected to pay it. Often personal injury lawyers will offer a contingency fee arrangement, in which the client pays nothing upfront, and the lawyer collects a percentage (usually 20% to 40%) of any settlement or damages award. (The arrangement might vary somewhat depending on whether the case is settled or goes to trial.)
In some situations, clients might be billed an hourly rate, a flat rate, or be asked to provide a retainer, or a lump sum, out of which a lawyer deducts charges for legal services. It is possible to encounter hybrid arrangements or for arrangements to shift based on circumstances or unique issues presented in the case, so be sure to ask for clarification. Initial consultations are often free, but you can ask before scheduling one if there is a charge just to be certain.
How long have you been practicing in this area of the law?
Lawyers, like doctors, specialize in particular areas of expertise. Although all doctors have certain basic skills and core competencies, you probably wouldn’t want to visit a podiatrist to receive treatment for a gastrointestinal illness. For that same reason, if you plan to file a personal injury case, you want to hire a lawyer with specific experience dealing with personal injury law.
A personal injury specialist will know more about the types of claims you can file in your lawsuit, how the case can best be presented and argued in court, and how much money you're likely to receive either as a settlement or as a damages award.
What states and courts have you filed personal injury cases in?
While experience handling cases like yours is important, another factor to consider is whether the lawyer has litigated a case in the same court where you intend to file yours. Practices and preferences can vary significantly depending on the court. Some courts are also known for being friendlier to personal injury plaintiffs than others. It’s good to hire an attorney with a sense of the landscape and potential pitfalls.
Have you handled cases similar to mine before? What was the outcome?
Every case offers unique challenges and circumstances. It will be helpful to know if the attorney you are thinking of hiring has seen and dealt with those challenges and circumstances before.
At the Santana Law Firm, we handle serious injury cases, defective products cases, auto and truck crash-related cases, cases involving ridesharing services like Uber and Lyft, and other pedestrian injury-related cases. Our attorneys bring their own individual wealth of experience to the table as well, so it is possible we may be prepared to handle some personal injury cases outside of those categories.
Have you ever taken a personal injury case to trial? What was the outcome?
After watching television shows like Law & Order, some clients are surprised to learn that most cases, including most personal injury cases, end in a settlement instead of going to trial. Taking a case to trial is a lengthy, complicated and expensive process.
Defendants sued in personal injury cases often have legal bills covered by liability insurers. Being risk-averse, insurers are often apt to cut their losses early and swiftly settle rather than go to trial and face the prospect of paying a large damages award on top of already-mounting costs. But sometimes, defendants do go to trial, and it’s important to know if your lawyers have faced that scenario before and what happened, particularly concerning cases that are similar to yours.
How much money can I win?
An experienced personal injury lawyer should be able to give you a good estimate of what you can expect to receive as a settlement or as a damages award should you file your case. Some factors that may come into play are the strength of your evidence, the amount of harm that was done, and the extent to which the case may attract negative media attention to the defendant.
When can I expect to receive a check?
Similarly, an experienced personal injury lawyer should have a solid sense of how long the litigation process takes.
Be forewarned: It’s usually not fast. While in some cases, a plaintiff might reasonably expect a settlement in a matter of months, fighting in court and winning at trial can take years. There are some large, consolidated personal injury class actions with thousands of plaintiffs that can take a decade or longer to reach a conclusion.
What is your opinion of my case? How strong is it, and what are the challenges?
A good lawyer should be honest and frank with you about any problems or obstacles that could stand in the way of winning your case. But they should also be able to offer strategies or potential solutions for those problems. Often, there is more than one way to tackle a complex issue. A good lawyer should be a creative thinker and develop some workarounds.
May I see testimonials from other clients?
Hiring a lawyer isn't like hiring a hairdresser, but a good attorney-client relationship can feel similar. You’ll want to know how other clients have perceived working with this attorney, whether they felt their needs and concerns were addressed, and whether it was easy or difficult to communicate with them and get things done. Much like Yelp reviews for a hairdresser, testimonials from clients can offer a sense of these things.
How can I best communicate with you and find out the progress of the case?
In that same vein, establishing a communication channel is also vital so that your attorney can get any information they need from you in a timely manner, and so that you can keep up with what’s going on. At the same time, attorneys are often very busy — talking to clients, drafting documents, and arguing in court can all take up a lot of time and bandwidth. Find out the best ways to stay in touch, whether by email, a cell phone, or an assistant.
What are your current work demands?
Even the best lawyer on the planet will likely not get you the best possible outcome if they are overwhelmed. As mentioned before, certain activities lawyers are engaged in can take up a lot of time and concentration. A lawyer in the midst of fighting multiple complex trials, for instance, may not have as much time to devote to your case as you both would like. Find out what their current bandwidth is and if they feel comfortable being able to take on the extra work.
Who will be handling the work on my case?
Given the heavy demands many lawyers have on their time, it often falls to paralegals, junior legal associates, and other staff members to handle a lot of the details. Find out who all would be doing the bulk of this work.
Do I have a role to play in preparing this case, and how can I make it easier to win?
It is possible that you could have an important role to play which could affect the outcome. A skilled attorney will know what, if anything, you can do to help, or anything that might be useful for you to do (or not to do). For instance, your case might attract media attention. A lawyer will be able to instruct you on whether it’s a good idea to talk to the press, or whether speaking out might harm your chances of winning in court. It’s possible you may also need to provide testimony in court or supply documents and other evidence.
If the lawyer is not a good fit for you, do they have suggestions for some that might be better?
Good lawyers want happy clients. They also want other good lawyers they know to have happy clients. If the lawyer you are currently speaking to does not seem like they would be the best person to handle the case, try asking if they have suggestions for someone who might have the right experience. There’s a good chance they will be able to come up with some names.