12 Pointed Questions to Ask Before Hiring a Personal Injury Lawyer
Personal injuries are a serious matter, so it only makes sense that you put in some effort when deciding who to work with for legal representation.
Indeed, it's not uncommon for accident victims to "shop around" until they find the right fit. In a sense, you want to interview your attorney before committing to work with them in a professional capacity. Doing so will ensure you have a smooth experience from case evaluation to settlement award.
My advice? Ask them questions.
12 Questions to Ask a Personal Injury Lawyer Before Hiring Them
There are several important questions you should ask a personal attorney before hiring them. No, you don't need to read a book on the subject. You don't need to grill them on every last detail of their past and their accolades. You have a case to win, after all, and time is of the essence.
Instead, you want to ask pointed questions whose answers will give you an accurate understanding of what you can expect if you decide to hire them.
I've put together some of the best hard-hitting questions I would ask an attorney if I were in your position. And who knows, I may be some day soon. The answers to these questions should either give you the peace of mind knowing you're in good hands or send you running to a different attorney and law firm altogether.
With my brief preamble out of the way, here are 12 questions to ask a personal injury lawyer during your initial consultation before choosing to work together formally.
1. What do You Charge for Your Services?
Most personal injury attorneys operate on a contingency fee basis. That means you won't have to pay anything unless you recover monetary damages in your personal injury lawsuit.
In a contingency fee agreement, you pay no legal fees upfront. Instead, your personal injury lawyer will take a fixed percentage of the money you're awarded when the case is resolved.
You'll want to make sure and ask what that percentage is. In most cases, it will range between 20% - 40%.
2. How Long Have You Been Practicing Personal Injury Law?
One of your biggest concerns should be making sure you choose an experienced attorney who has several years of experience trying cases just like yours.
You can think about your attorney's legal experience in the same way you feel about your doctor's. When you have a problem with, say, your right foot, you'll likely seek the help of a foot specialist over the neighborhood general practice MD. While the generalist undoubtedly has the foundational knowledge of what ails you, a specialist is the better option to give you the best possible service.
When talking with a personal injury attorney, be direct. Ask them how many years of experience they have working on personal injury or malpractice cases like yours.
And while you're on the subject, ask them about the success rate.
3. Have You Handled Personal Injury Cases Like Mine Before? If So, Did Any Go to Trial?
Just because an attorney has experience working on cases like yours doesn't automatically make them a superstar lawyer. You want someone who has taken similar cases to trial and won. Many times, ideally.
Suppose an attorney can show you a list of case results that are similar to yours. In that case, you'll know they have the expertise to deal with complex legal issues and understand the types of settlements they have successfully secured for past clients.
Most cases are settled before they ever go to trial. Still, you want to make sure your attorney has adequate jury trial experience should the case be taken to court. Many lay people never think to ask this question. It's a common misconception that all attorneys know how to try a case in a court of law. This is simply not the case. So when asking your questions, find out whether they can try a lawsuit in court or not.
4. What Issues or Difficulties do You See with My Case?
In every personal injury claim, there will be issues and difficulties unique to the case. An experienced lawyer will be able to point these out to you quite easily.
And it isn't enough that they point out the difficulties of your case—it's that they actually point them out!
If the attorney tells you that your case will be smooth-sailing, with no problems whatsoever, that should be a serious red flag. Nothing is ever easy or straightforward. The legal system is very complex, and an attorney who has a track record of successfully settling different types of cases will be upfront with you about this.
In short, a reputable personal injury attorney will be honest with you about the issues and difficulties of your case, then propose a viable solution.
5. How Will You Keep Me Updated on the Progress of My Case?
Will someone be available to take your calls? The attorney? A paralegal or a secretary?
Communication is the cornerstone of any relationship and is an essential component of a personal injury case. Some clients want to be involved every step of the way, while others are ok with only the occasional update on their case's progress. Everyone is different.
Whichever you prefer, you want to get clarity from your attorney on what role you have in the process and what is expected of you. Whether you want a more active role in the process and wish to have frequent meetings and phone calls, or prefer to sit on the sidelines, you should ask what the relationship might look like should you work together.
6. Do You Have Testimonials or References from Past Clients that I Can See?
Just as you'd want to see proof of past results and case relevance, you might also be interested in seeing previous clients' experiences.
Many attorneys will have client testimonials publicly available on their firm's website, but if they don't, it's a good idea to ask. Many experienced attorneys also receive referrals from other attorneys with different specialties.
While seeking legal representation, you want to make sure you're picking someone people enjoy working with. You may be going through a difficult time physically and emotionally, so choosing someone with a reasonable bedside manner can make all the difference.
You should ask about testimonials, but you should also consider asking to speak to a past client as well.
7. What Happens if I Lose? Will I be Responsible for any Case-Related Costs?
This may be one of the most important questions on this list because the answer may impact your financial livelihood—listen up!
There are certain litigation costs in every case (especially those that are tried in a court of law). The longer your case goes on, the more these costs may add up. When you ask your questions to a personal injury attorney, ask them what their policy is regarding these expenses.
Whether you win or lose, there will be costs for filing fees, medical record retrieval fees, and other essential clerical activities needed to further your case. Some attorneys will charge you for these costs, win or lose, while others won't.
In short, make sure to ask your attorney about their policy for out-of-pocket costs, win or lose.
8. How Much Time Can You Devote to My Case? What is Your Current Bandwidth?
If you've suffered a serious injury, then you want to make sure your legal representative can handle your case with the amount of attention and care you deserve.
In some cases, your initial consultation will be with a senior attorney at your local personal injury firm. And even though they were your initial contact, that doesn't necessarily mean they will be the one managing your case the closest.
When asking your questions, find out who will be handling your case. Is it a senior attorney, or will less experienced associates be bearing the brunt of the work? If the latter, ask about their qualifications, their experience, and how they will be supervised.
Ultimately, you want peace of mind and confidence, knowing that the right lawyer is working on the right case—your case.
9. What is My Personal Injury Case Worth?
As a trial attorney myself, I will say that providing an accurate estimation of any of my client's case values is a difficult task. Every case is unique, you see. No two are alike, which is why there is no such thing as a settlement fee calculator or accurate formula out there.
That said, as your lawyer dives into the details of your case, he or she should be able to give you an idea of what that range could be.
Additionally, you should know that your attorney's ability to try cases in court and negotiate with the Insurance company can also influence your case's value. If your attorney is ready and prepared to try your case in court, then you know they can fight for maximum compensation in your settlement offer. On the other hand, if your attorney has a track record of settling and never takes cases to court, then you can expect he or she will do the same for you, opting to settle your case at a discount.
Past behavior is the best predictor of future action, remember. Make sure your lawyer is ready and able to go to court for you.
10. What Happens if My Case Goes to Trial? Will the Fees Change? Will You Take My Case to Trial Yourself?
Insurance companies will try and give you the lowest possible amount of financial compensation, hoping you'll take the money and run. It is in everyone's interest to settle the case, but if the insurance company refuses to settle, or you aren't satisfied with the settlement amount on offer, then your case may be tried in court.
Your attorney should be fully capable of fighting for maximum compensation for your case. They should know how to negotiate effectively with insurance adjusters to arrive at a fair settlement. And if your case is taken to court, you just want to make sure your attorney can handle it.
If your case is taken to court, there is also a chance that the original contingency fee will increase. Make sure to ask for clarity on this topic.
11. How Long Will Resolution Take?
Settlement negotiations can take quite a while, especially if the client has suffered severe injuries and damages.
Your attorney may have a rough idea of the time frame for your case, but it isn't easy to provide an accurate one in my experience.
There are so many variables to consider: court calendars, the opposing party's behavior and willingness to settle, the complexity of the case itself, and more. The best you can hope for is that your attorney has ample experience with your particular case, in which case they can speak from experience about how long it could take to resolve.
12. Who Can I Talk to About my Case TODAY?
When looking to partner with a potential personal injury lawyer, do yourself a favor and ask them the questions you just read about in this article.
If you were in a car accident, ask if they specialize in auto accidents. Ask whether they operate on a contingency fee basis or something else. Ask if you stand to receive compensation to cover the costs of medical bills, damages, and injuries. Ask about their experience, above all else.
John Bruscato is an experienced attorney with ten years worth of experience serving the Monroe, Louisiana community. Contact Bruscato Law Firm today and schedule a free consultation to ask all of your questions about your personal injury lawsuit—we are here for you.