December 30, 2015
If you've been seriously injured in an accident, or if the other side is being contentious right out of the gate, you'll probably want to put your personal injury case in the hands of an experienced attorney. You shouldn't turn to just any lawyer for help; look for someone who has experience handling your type of personal injury claim -- and whom you feel that you can trust. (On the other side of the coin, for the basics on representing yourself, see Nolo's article Personal Injury Claims: When You Can Handle Your Own.)
There are several ways to get referrals to experienced plaintiffs' personal injury lawyers. Once you get referrals, be sure to comparison-shop. Get the names of several lawyers and meet with each of them to discuss your claim before you decide to hire someone. And be prepared for rejection. Many lawyers do not take cases if they fall below a certain potential recovery amount, or if the claim is not crystal clear.
Here's where to look for referrals:
Talk with friends or coworkers who have been represented by a lawyer in their own personal injury claims. If the friend or coworker says good things to you about a lawyer, put the lawyer on your list of people to consult. But do not make a decision about a lawyer solely on the basis of someone else's recommendation. Different people will have different responses to a lawyer's style and personality; don't make up your mind about hiring a lawyer until you've met the lawyer, discussed your case, and decided that you feel comfortable working with him or her.
Nolo offers two ways to find an attorney. You can use the "Talk to a Personal Injury Lawyer" tool at the bottom of this article to quickly enter in the details of your case and have local personal injury lawyers contact you.
Nolo also offers a unique lawyer directory that provides a comprehensive profile for each attorney with information that will help you select the right attorney. The profiles tell you about the lawyer's experience, education, and fees, and perhaps most importantly, the lawyer's general philosophy of practicing law. Nolo has confirmed that every listed attorney has a valid license and is in good standing with their bar association.
Another place to seek a referral to an experienced personal injury lawyer is through other lawyers you know. Lawyers commonly refer cases to one another, and most lawyers will know someone else who handles plaintiffs' personal injury cases. As with referrals from friends or coworkers, however, do not simply take another lawyer's referral as the final word.
Most local bar associations have referral services in which the names of lawyers are available, arranged by legal specialty. There is a wide variation in the quality of lawyer referral services, however, even though they are supposed to be approved by the state bar association. Some lawyer referral services carefully screen attorneys and list only those attorneys with particular qualifications and a certain amount of past experience, while other services will list any attorney in good standing with the state bar who maintains liability insurance. Before you choose a lawyer referral service, ask what its qualifications are for including an attorney and how carefully lawyers are screened.
What you may not get from any lawyer referral service, however, is insight into the lawyer's philosophy -- for instance, whether the lawyer is willing to spend a few hours to be your legal coach or how aggressive the lawyer's personality is. Don't make a decision about a bar referral lawyer until you have met and interviewed him or her.
To find out whether a lawyer is right for you, sit down with the lawyer to discuss your claim and possible ways of handling it. Bring copies of all your documents: police report, medical records and bills, income loss information, and all correspondence with the insurance company. Most lawyers do not charge anything for an initial consultation. But before you meet with a lawyer, find out whether he or she will charge you for the first interview. If the lawyer wants to charge you just for discussing whether or not to take your case, go somewhere else.
After you tell the lawyer generally what your case is about, there are a few basic things you'll want to find out from the lawyer:
After you have discussed the facts of your case and the history of your negotiations with the insurance company, you may be able to get some sense from the lawyer about how much he or she thinks your case is worth, and how difficult it may be to get the insurance company to pay that amount. This is when you should let the lawyer know which of the following you want him or her to do for you:
If you feel confident with the lawyer's experience, and comfortable with his or her idea of how to proceed with your case, chances are good that you've found a lawyer you can work with.
Once you've found a lawyer that you like, your job isn't entirely done. You'll need to create a clear, written fee agreement and then keep in contact with your lawyer to make sure your case is progressing as it should. For tips on working with the personal injury lawyer you choose, see How to Win Your Personal Injury Claim, by Joseph Matthews (Nolo). Also, the eBook The Lawsuit Survival Guide: A Client's Companion to Litigation, by Joseph Matthews (Nolo), has detailed information on choosing and working with a lawyer.