It’s difficult for someone HURT in an accident to decide which personal injury attorney to hire but there are some factors you can look at.
Hire a lawyer who does only personal injury
Most important is to hire a lawyer who does only personal injury. Some law firms practice in different areas but the law firm should have a lawyer representing you who only does personal injury. Accident cases are too complicated for lawyers who practice in many different areas.
Does certification mean that you should hire the lawyer?
Generally lawyers are not allowed to say that they specialize in a field such as personal injury. However, some states are now allowing lawyers to become certified in a field of practice and can then say that they specialize. Does certification mean that you should hire that lawyer?
Unfortunately, certification does not really provide much useful information. Most personal injury lawyers with a lot of experience will not walk away from their practice for six months of school just to get certified. They simply don’t need it. Newer lawyers who get certified after law school may have gone through more school for certification but may lack the experience you want. We recommend looking at the experience of a lawyer. How many years has the personal injury been practicing? Does the lawyer only represent personal injury clients or does the lawyer handle other fields of law in addition to personal injury?
How do you know if your lawyer does only accident cases?
Of course, you can ask the lawyer what types of cases he or she works on. Another method is to look for law firms advertising for personal injury and accidents. Some lawyers claim that law firms which advertise don’t do trials and are just looking for a quick easy settlement. This is absolutely not true and said by lawyers upset because the don’t advertise. In fact, some of the best personal injury law firms in the US advertise on TV.
Usually, law firms with big advertising budgets handle only cases for which they are advertising. This is because advertising brings a lot of clients and it’s more efficient to handle only that type of case. Personal Injury law firms which advertise usually don’t have time for other types of cases. My Personal Injury law firm, New York Personal Injury Attorneys only represents people injured in accidents. We don’t have time for other types of cases or to learn other fields of law. Personal injury is complicated enough.
Look at the lawyer’s website. The website will show you what areas of law the law firm is practicing. The law firm’s website will provide good clues to their proficiency in personal injury and accidents.
Hiring a lawyer based on negotiating the legal fee
While most lawyers do not negotiate their fees, I don’t recommend hiring a lawyer just because you found one who is willing to reduce his or her fee. Just like with everything else, usually, you get what you pay for.
If personal service is important to you, you may want a smaller Law firm. However, the size of the law firm is not usually important to the outcome of your case.
Which lawyer will work on your case?
If you’re calling a law firm with several attorneys, ask if only one lawyer or several lawyers will be working on your case. If more than one lawyer will be working on your case, find out who that is and see if you can get to meet with that lawyer to see if you like the lawyer and can get along with the lawyer.
Verdicts & Settlements
Don’t look only at examples of verdicts and settlements. Large verdicts and settlements do not mean that the lawyers at that law firm are any better than any other attorney. It may just mean they were lucky enough to have retained a client with very serious injuries hurt by someone who was 100% negligent and had a lot of insurance. Lawyers who advertise or take cases referred from other attorneys will usually have large verdicts or accident settlements.
Additionally, what the public doesn’t know is that those clients never receive the money awarded in a large verdict. Most big jury verdicts in personal injury claims are reduced by judges after a jury verdict is rendered. The amount of the settlement is what’s important.
The law firm which represented police brutality victim Abner Louima won a $76 million jury verdict against the city. However, the verdict was reduced to $6 million. The same law firm obtained a trial verdict in another case in excess of $100 million but was settled for $3 million because of the threat of appeal. On appeal, the case is heard by judges, not a jury and awards are almost always drastically reduced down to legal “reality”.
Don’t let examples of large verdicts and settlements scare you off because you don’t think you have a serious injury the attorney would be interested in. Law firms advertising large verdicts and settlements are usually interested in much smaller cases and your injury may be worth much more than you think.
- Look for an attorney or law firm which does only personal injury/accident cases;
- Look at the attorney’s website for areas of law the law firm is practicing and their proficiency in personal injury; and
- Hire an attorney who you like and think you can get along with.
The best time to call a lawyer for an injury caused by an accident
The best time to call a lawyer for an injury caused by an accident is as soon as possible after an accident.
Reasons to call immediately after an accident:
- There are many short time deadlines to protect various benefits. The time to file a lawsuit, known as the statute of limitations, varies from state to state but is usually 2 or 3 years for personal injury. The time to file a claim against a government agency may be 90 days and after that only 1 year to file a lawsuit. The time to file a lawsuit for medical malpractice may be shorter than for personal injury. Other benefits such as medical payments and disability payments from No-Fault can be just a matter of 30 or 90 days. You need to call a personal injury lawyer immediately to find out the time deadlines for your case in your state.
- It is usually better to speak with an accident attorney before giving any statements to your insurance company or anyone else. You should never give a statement to the insurance company for the person or company you are thinking of suing.
If you didn’t call a lawyer immediately after your accident
If you didn’t call a lawyer immediately after your accident, call right now. While it’s better to call immediately after an accident, it doesn’t mean that you screwed up your case or that a lawyer would not be interested.
What prompted this article is that I eagerly agreed to represent someone who just called about an accident she had seven months ago. She was hit in the rear by a car with $25,000 insurance and she has $250,000 underinsured coverage which she didn’t even know about. I should be able to get the entire amount within 8 months.
Even if you think you may have missed the statute of limitations, you should still call a lawyer.
If a minor was injured
If a minor was injured, the statute of limitations does not start to run until the minor reaches the age of majority.
Hiring a Personal Injury or Accident Attorney
The cost to hire an accident attorney is similar from state to state and from lawyer to lawyer. In every state, you can hire an accident attorney on a contingency fee basis. The differences include the percentage of the contingency fee and how the case expenses are charged.
What is a Contingency Fee?
A contingency fee is a legal fee based upon a contingent event. When HURT in an accident, the contingent event is whether the lawyer gets money for you or not. If your attorney successfully obtains money for you, the contingency is met and the legal fee becomes due. If your attorney is not successful and does not get money for you, the contingency is not reached and you will not be charged.
There are many reasons why it may not be possible to get money for you. As an example, your attorney may find that there is no insurance coverage to pay for your injuries; your attorney may find that there is no one who can be considered negligent for having caused your injury; or your attorney may have thought that your injury could become serious but later find that your injury resolved or is not serious enough for your attorney to pursue a claim.
Contingency fee percentage rates vary from state to state and from lawyer to lawyer. Some states do not allow lawyers to charge more than one third (33.333%) and some states have higher limits while some states do not have any limits. Some states allow different percentages depending upon whether your case is settled before filing a lawsuit or after. For instance, one third if settled before filing a lawsuit or 40% after filing a lawsuit. Attorneys in some states charge 50%.
Almost every accident attorney represents accident victims on a contingency fee basis. If you call a lawyer who wants to charge an hourly fee or an upfront fee to represent you for injuries in an accident, call another lawyer.
Can I negotiate the contingency fee for my accident case?
It’s difficult to find a personal injury lawyer willing to negotiate a lower percentage and most lawyers will not reduce their fee. You will be less likely to negotiate a lower fee in a state that limits legal fees to one third. You will also be less likely to negotiate a lower fee if your case is not simple and easy.
Because lawyers usually have to do a lot of work for a long time and advance case expenses, lawyers are reluctant to charge less. I personally have never agreed to reduce my legal fee even for easy cases because I provide personal service and my full time and attention to every client. Although it’s not supposed to happen, negotiating a lower percentage could possibly provide an incentive for your lawyer to obtain a quick settlement even if it’s lower.
What Expenses Are There For an Accident Case?
Following are general examples of personal injury case expenses (every case is different):
- Investigation of the accident can range from just a few dollars to a few hundred dollars and even over $1000.
- Medical records and reports can range from as little as $25 to many hundreds of dollars.
- Court costs and other court related expenses can range from $200+ to $500.
- Depositions of the plaintiff and defendant usually cost approx $500.
- A deposition of your doctor can cost approx $2,500 for your doctor’s fee plus the court reporter’s fee and videographer’s fee if videotaped.
- Trial expenses are usually in the range from $10,000-$50,000
When do I have to pay for case expenses?
You should pay all personal injury case expenses out of your settlement at the end of your case. When calling an accident attorney, should ask if the attorney will advance case expenses or if you will be responsible to advance any case expenses. It’s rare that a personal injury lawyer will require a client to advance case expenses but unless there is some benefit to you, you should not advance case expenses. As can be seen above, case expenses can be quite expensive and it’s best to make sure your lawyer will advance case expenses.
While case expenses are usually charged at the end of your case, the case expenses and legal fees may be computed differently. Case expenses may be charged off the top of your personal injury settlement with legal fees computed on the net balance or the legal fees may be computed as a percentage of the gross settlement and then returning the case expenses to the lawyer.
I have seen advice on the Internet to request that your lawyer set a spending limit warning requiring the lawyer to contact you when expenses hit $1,000.00. I think this is terrible advice and I would personally refuse to represent anyone who would require that. I would not want a client jeopardizing their case because they refuse to let me spend money on unnecessary case expenses. Your lawyer knows best what expenses are necessary to make sure your case is successful and to maximize its settlement value. Your lawyer does not have an incentive to pay and risk their money for unnecessary case expenses.
What Happens If I Lose My Case or My Lawyer Doesn’t Want to Continue?
Usually, your attorney takes the risk for both legal fees and case expenses when a contingency fee is used. This means that you will not be responsible either for legal fees or case expenses. This assumes that you signed a retainer providing a contingency fee with the lawyer advancing case expenses. Make sure that your retainer says that you are not responsible for legal fees or her case expenses if you do not receive any money.
According to the Department of Justice Bureau of Justice Statistics, one third of personal injury cases lose. Because accident lawyers take the risk; advance case expenses without charging interest; work many hours on your accident case; and wait several years to get paid while rent and office overhead must be paid monthly, you should now be able to understand why accident attorneys charge a high percentage legal fee to represent you for injuries sustained in an accident.
If your personal injury lawyer doesn’t want to continue with your case, you should look for another personal injury attorney. If your new lawyer charges the same legal fee as your previous lawyer, you should not have to pay any additional legal fees or case expenses. Your new personal injury attorney will pay your previous attorney for the case expenses and you should pay for the case expenses at the end of your personal injury case.