How to Find a Personal Injury Lawyer
Get on This Right Away
The easiest way to mess up a meritorious personal injury case is often by not retaining counsel immediately. As we have seen in past blogs, failing to document your injuries, reporting the crash or incident, or talking to the insurance company can be injurious or even fatal to even the best claim.
The best way to keep yourself from falling into one of those traps is by hiring a personal injury lawyer right away. Do not wait a day or two, or a week. Do it as soon as you have reported the incident and received initial medical treatment.
Do Your Research
There are many ways to find great information out about attorneys. The old school way of paging through the Yellow Pages, calling a "family attorney," or looking for a lawyer in a recognized, stodgy publication providing a listing of lawyers like Martindale Hubbell have gone by the wayside like 8-track tape players.
The new way is right in your hands, assuming your smart phone or tablet is handy. Simply perform a Google search for "personal injury lawyer" and you'll come up with hundreds of results. But there is no way to rank the quality of those who pop up in your search, so how can you do that?
One site that comes to mind is Avvo. It is a site that assigns a numerical ranking to lawyers. It lets the consumer view answers to questions, and even post questions that a lawyer will answer voluntarily. Further, each attorney has a profile to which useful information like speaking engagements, case results, publications, and helpful information can be added.
There are many other sources like Avvo, like Findlaw. Even the good old stogy Martindale Hubbell is online now. There are also sources that are used for other consumer services that are sometimes useful in helping the public find lawyers. Yelp is definitely a great way for people to find lawyers, as well as restaurants. Thumbtack is a source for many consumers to locate professionals in a variety of fields, including law.
Be sure to follow up and go to that lawyer's website. If there is no website, you should probably keep looking for another lawyer! How easy is the site to use? What useful information is there that you can look at right now? Are there helpful videos? Is there a link to a blog with helpful information? Is the picture a photo of someone you can envision yourself working with?
If you don't want a law-centric site, there is also the same way you find a great housecleaner or beer garden—Yelp. You can find a lawyer, read client reviews, and decide for yourself if this is someone you want to work with.
You can also go to the Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission to research individual attorneys. You can determine if he or she has ever been disciplined, as well as whether he or she carries malpractice insurance.
It would seem patently obvious why you would want a lawyer who has not been disciplined by the ARDC or who carries malpractice insurance. Just think, would you want to invest your money with a financial advisor who doesn't have a license to manage money, or take your car to a mechanic who is "not exactly" a certified mechanic? Are you comfortable having someone who is not insured, bonded, and licensed fixing your basement? Well maybe you are, until the job he or she did causes your foundation to leak or collapse. If they are not insured/licensed/bonded, you could be left fixing the basement (again) yourself on your own dime.
Similarly, one would not think of having heart surgery performed by someone who learned how to perform open heart surgery on Youtube. You want a lawyer licensed to practice law, who holds a law license in good standing, and who carries malpractice insurance, just in case something goes wrong. Law is a regulated profession. Use the regulatory body to your advantage!
One thing everyone should do when interviewing a lawyer is have a list of questions. Here are some of the basics you should ask a personal injury lawyer:
- How do you charge?
- Do I owe any money up front?
- Do I have to pay costs of filing and litigation?
- In almost all cases, you should find a personal injury attorney who charges via a contingency fee, meaning you do not owe anything except after the case is settled. If the lawyer you are interviewing cannot explain this structure to you so that you understand it completely, you should find another lawyer.
- How long have you practiced personal injury (or workers' compensation, or medical malpractice) and what percentage of time do you devote to (area of practice you are asking about)?
- How responsive are you to emails? Phone calls? Texts? How do you like to communicate?
- How familiar are you with my type of case?
- How does your fee structure work? (You should have a complete understanding of how contingency fees work by the time you are done!)
- How do we transact business—in person? Email?
- Who will handle my case? Will the senior (name) partner be on it or will it be "dumped" on the lowest rung associate?
Find a Personal Fit
Like doctors, lawyers are unique in how they handle people. Some lawyers are really smart but not so great at returning phone calls or explaining things to clients. Others are disorganized or seem "bothered" when clients ask questions. Find someone you feel a companionship with, but don't just pick someone because they tell you what you want to hear. If someone tells you some negative things about your case, you should probably listen. Lawyers want your business and only get paid if they succeed. If they point out possible pitfalls with your case, they are doing it for a reason.
What Have We Learned?
- Get on this right away
- Do your research
- Ask questions
- Find a personal fit