The Top Things to Look For When You're Choosing a Personal Injury Attorney
Your lawyer stands between you and the insurance company whose goal is to avoid paying your claim if possible or paying as little as it can, if it must pay anything at all. Your lawyer’s tools include his ability to explain to the insurance company why it must pay you, the law that they are required to follow and respect, as well as explain how you have been damaged, harmed, and incurred losses, the amount of those harms and losses and how much money the insurance company must pay. If the insurance company fails or refuses to pay a fair amount, your personal injury lawyer’s arsenal includes filing a lawsuit or a demand for arbitration and, if necessary, taking your case to trial before a jury a judge or an arbitrator.
Some factors and points to look for and question an attorney about are listed below. Note that not every attorney will meet all of these criteria, but the significant absence of the following should be a big question mark.
When Looking For a Personal Injury Lawyer, Keep These Factors in Mind:
- Experience – obviously, the longer you have been practicing a particular area of the law, the more you will know. Experience is a big factor in most cases.
- Experience actually trying cases – ask the attorney how many cases he has actually tried. Has he or she achieved any significant verdicts or settlements? Actually taking cases to trial is something insurance companies are aware of and increases the insurance companies respect your lawyer and by association, you and your case. Past results are not a guarantee of the future success, but past results do demonstrate some level of experience and skill.
- Respect in the legal community – Do other lawyers refer personal injury cases to him or her?
- Membership in trial lawyer associations. – In our area, you can find a personal injury lawyer who is a member of the Consumer Attorneys of California (CAOC), the Consumer Attorneys Association of Los Angeles (CAALA) or The American Association for Justice [formerly known as the American Trial Lawyers Association.] These fine organizations provide networking, and information to keep personal injury attorneys on top of the issues that affect their clients and their practices. Membership in one or more of these associations suggests the attorney is involved in the field of personal injury and has access to the excellent resources offered to improve trial skills and results for its members. These organizations also provide extensive education and networking for trial lawyers.
- Publications—has your attorney written anything that has been published? This is another sign of his or her skills and experience.
Additional Tips For Finding a Good Attorney for Your Case:
- Get a referral from an attorney that you know and trust. He or she will probably know someone who does specialize in your area of need.
- The Yellow Pages can actually be a good source of names. Understand three things, however: First, not every personal injury attorney advertises in the Yellow Pages. Second, be careful about the ads that offer too many different specialties, no one can do everything well. Third, be careful about multiple full–page ads. The best attorneys do not necessarily have the largest ads or the best book position. Some law firms have simply gone out of business buried under the “weight” of full page Yellow Page ads.
- Your local bar association probably has a lawyer referral service. Understand that this sometimes involves a fee for the attorney to be listed in certain specialties. Their names come up on a rotating basis. This is another good source for an initial appointment.
- Interview several personal injury attorneys. Ask each attorney who else handles these cases in your area. If they won't give you any names, leave. Ask this question of each attorney. The names you see showing up on various lists of recommendations are probably good bets for attorneys doing these cases on a regular basis in your area.
- Ask each attorney for information just like what we provide on this web site, or in my book, so that you can find out more about his or her qualifications, experience, and method of handling a case before you walk in the door.
- Be careful about any personal injury attorney who rushes you to sign a contingency fee agreement. You should take the agreement home, read it and understand it. We have heard of instances where “cappers” arrive at the hospital, or at your home within hours of the time you first call the attorney’s office to present a potential client with a retainer agreement. That’s right, before they even have had a chance to meet with the attorney. This is outrageous. Some attorneys employ “runners” or “cappers” to personally solicit accident victims. This is unlawful in the state of California. A “runner” hangs out at the police station or listens to police radio to “run” to accident scenes or hospital rooms to encourage injured people to sign contracts with attorneys. Outrageous does not begin to describe this practice!
- Beware of any attorney who contacts you in writing just after you have had an accident for the sole purpose of soliciting your claim. If you are contacted “cold” it should be for the sole purpose of providing you free information that you can study in your own home on your own time.
- Beware of an attorney who insists that you stop seeing your doctor and has a stable of doctors he wants to refer you to. As I discuss in my book, attorney referrals to doctors are proper, but they must be done correctly, and for the right reasons. If done improperly, they can harm your claim.
Once You Have Decided on a Personal Injury Attorney, Make Sure You Both Understand Your Goals
How will your attorney keep you informed about the progress of the case? In our practice, we stay in close contact with our clients to monitor their recovery, make sure they are getting the medical care or assistance they need, and get all of the documentation necessary to prove how their lives have been affected. We also take time to explain the "pace" of the case and in what time frames the client can expect activity to take place. Our clients are invited to call or email at anytime. If I can't call you back right away, my assistants will help you set up a specific "telephone appointment." You are also invited to make an appointment to come in at a time that is convenient to you.
Find out who will actually be working on your case. Make sure that you and your attorney have a firm understanding as to who will be handling your case. There are a lot of things that go on with a case that do not require the senior attorney’s attention. On the other hand, if you are hiring an attorney because of his or her trial skills, make sure that that person is going to be trying your case for you.
Feel free to contact us, or submit your personal injury case for a free review. We value your privacy. Your submission is confidential. We do not share your information with anyone. From our Woodland Hills office, we're able to serve all of Los Angeles County. Call 818 716-6400 today.
We represent personal injury clients throughout California. Our local communities are the counties of Los Angeles, Ventura and Orange. Local cities include Woodland Hills, Encino, Van Nuys, Chatsworth, Calabasas, Hidden Hills, North Hollywood, Studio City, Sherman Oaks, Burbank, Santa Monica, Beverly Hills, Pasadena, Sylmar, Valencia, Moorpark, Simi Valley, Oxnard, Newbury Park, Lancaster, Long Beach, West Covina, Duarte, Pomona, El Monte, Downey, Palos Verdes, Canyon Country, Valencia.