Every time I meet a new client I begin by apologizing for the circumstances necessitating our meeting. Like emergency room doctors who treat trauma, personal injury lawyers meet their clients (or surviving family members) following some of the most devastating life events a person or family may ever encounter. Life partners lost, loved ones permanently injured, an uncertain financial future, young children who have lost a parent, medical bills, and the fog of being in frightening, uncharted waters without a compass or a game plan. Finally, add in big insurance companies who are trained professionals in denying claims, paying less than fair value, and/or refusing to pay for necessary medical treatment and the ripple effects of an injury seem endless.
A good lawyer can and should help with many of these things. Among the first, a good and ethical lawyer should instantly be able to put the family or the injured party in touch with good professionals; medical doctors, grief counselors, patient advocates, etc. Your counsel must take a full inventory of your (or your family’s) life circumstances and offer a comprehensive plan and check-list for how to move through the injury or loss, cope with the grief, investigate and preserve the necessary evidence while it is still available and outline a legal plan of action for holding at-fault parties and insurance companies fully responsible.
Many lawyers post large awards, verdicts or settlements as evidence of their skill. Well, there is an advantage to having handled large and complex cases in the past. However, it’s easy to settle a $5 million dollar case for $2 million dollars; doing so tells you nothing of the skill (or lack thereof) by the lawyer.
The first thing you should look for is integrity. You must feel comfortable with, and learn to trust, the advice of your counsel. If you sense that the lawyer is only out for themselves, or not really listening to you then the relationship is not going to be a productive one over the often long course of resolving a serious personal injury or wrongful death claim.
Second, does your lawyer have past experience in court? Have they tried many cases? Have they worked in a defense firm before? Do they truly know the skill and dedication it will take to fight the exceptionally well-financed and trained defense lawyers and insurance adjusters? Ask these questions of your counsel, you deserve straight answers.
Is your lawyer making promises? If so, run. Run now and run fast. It is ethically improper to promise results to a client. Your lawyer may give you their opinion as to whether they think you have a strong case and perhaps even a ballpark about what you might ask for but there are literally hundreds, if not thousands, of factors that affect case value and that are usually unknown until substantial investigation has occurred. A lawyer who professes to give you promises about tremendous monetary compensation is out for one thing: to get your business by hook or by crook. The best lawyers will honestly admit that you may have sustained enormous losses but that further investigation into the amount of insurance available, the specific facts of the incident and the background of the injured party and their family are required before harboring an opinion as to case value.
Do you like the person you are working with and do you feel that this is a person you can discuss your most personal thoughts and feelings? Good lawyer/client relationships are based on mutual trust and respect. A rookie lawyer or a lawyer who’s got one foot out the door may not be the best fit for you. Likewise, a law firm where each lawyer handles hundreds of cases may not be the best place for your serious personal injury claim, and you may soon find yourself pawned off onto a junior associate or a paralegal with little to no interaction with the actual lawyer.
So, feel free to ask the hard questions. Look them up online. Talk with your accountant or physician or any other trusted professional to see who them might recommend. Or ask us. We don’t take every case, and sometimes tell clients we think they will end up further ahead by handling their own claim (if it’s small). Other times we send clients to specialists in a particular area who handle very unique cases.
Finally, don’t believe everything you see on the internet. Fancy websites look great, made up awards seem to give a lawyer pedigree, but just like “fake news” now is the time to carefully look behind the glitter and find the right fit. An injury often feels like this decision must be made immediately, and I do recommend bringing counsel in early to help investigate, but make your decision carefully and like any relationship find a good match with someone who is practicing as a personal injury lawyer for the right reasons (to help people who are suffering and to find truth and demand accountability) and carefully select a good advocate who will help provide good legal and life advice as you move through the stages of an injury or loss and into a new future. Meet them in person if you can.
From our team to you, our very best.