If you’ve sustained a personal injury due to another person’s negligence, one of the most important decisions you’ll make is the attorney you choose to represent you. Here are three questions you should ask before you hire anyone:
What Is Your Contingency Fee?
Most personal injury attorneys work under a contingency fee agreement, meaning that if you don’t recover any money your attorney won’t get paid. Contingency fee arrangements are negotiable and typically range somewhere between 25 and 40 percent. Many attorneys raise the percentage of their fee if the case is filed in court, and it may go even higher if the matter actually goes to trial.
Expenses like expert witness fees, court reporter charges, copies, and postage are handled differently by different law firms. On a big case, these costs can run into the thousands of dollars, so you need to ask if you’ll be required to pay these expenses up front, or if the lawyer will pay them as the case goes along (and get reimbursed out of the recovery at the end of the case). And don’t forget to ask about the lawyer’s policy regarding case expenses when the case is lost — nobody wins every case, even if they say they do.
Have You Handled a Case Like Mine Before?
Just because a lawyer has practiced for many years doesn’t mean he or she has experience handling cases comparable to yours. Some lawyers are general practitioners who do a little bit of everything, including the occasional personal injury case. But a jack-of-all-trades lawyer may not be your best option.
Instead consider hiring an attorney who specializes in personal injury law, and has successfully represented clients in claims similar to yours. Ask about the lawyer’s experience and results, and request permission to speak to former clients, if possible. Experience matters, and it often takes a specialist to practice at the highest level and get the best results for you.
Will You Try My Case in Court, or Is Every Case Settled Out of Court or Referred to Other Lawyers to Try?
This is a very important question that many people don’t think to ask. If you hire a lawyer that always settles and is unwilling to go to court, he or she likely relies on a large volume of cases and high turnover, meaning that the lawyer will try to settle your case quickly, sometimes at the expense of your recovery.
Real lawyers handle cases the old-fashioned way: by trying to settle out of court but going to court when necessary. Ask for your potential lawyer’s track record of verdicts — he or she will likely be happy to talk about them if you ask. The longer the lawyer’s list of successful outcomes, the better.
The insurance companies who defend personal injury cases in your area know the attorneys who actually try cases in court and those who don’t — and they use that information to evaluate their risk. That’s why one of the first questions an insurance adjuster will ask when a claim comes in is, “Who is representing the plaintiff?”
Ask Questions — You’re the One Doing the Hiring
Many people don’t realize that if they have a solid case, they can hire a top attorney at the same contingency fee rate that an inexperienced rookie with a mediocre track record charges. Which means it pays to ask questions, literally.
Image by gillian maniscalco