Finding a Personal Injury Lawyer

How to connect with the right attorney for you and your personal injury claim.

Updated by , J.D., University of San Francisco School of Law

Any time an accident or injury looks like it's the result of someone else's carelessness or misconduct, it's a good idea to understand your options for holding the at-fault party responsible.

Getting the help of a skilled legal professional can be crucial to the success of a personal injury case, but:

  • How do you know whether your potential personal injury claim is the kind that requires a lawyer's help?
  • Where should you look when trying to find the right injury lawyer?
  • How do you make sure a candidate lawyer will be the right fit for you and your case?

This article answers these questions, plus a few more.

Do You Need a Personal Injury Lawyer?

In some fairly rare scenarios, it might be a good idea to handle a personal injury claim on your own—when your injuries are minor, the other party was clearly at fault, and you're willing to fight for the best result from the insurance company, for example.

But in most instances, you'll probably want to put your personal injury case in the hands of an experienced attorney, especially if:

  • you were seriously injured in the accident
  • the other side (the at-fault party and/or the insurance adjuster for their insurance company) is trying to pin blame for the underlying accident on you
  • the other side is questioning the legitimacy of your injuries or the necessity of the medical care you've received, or
  • you've tried handling the claim yourself, but the other side isn't coming to the table with a fair settlement offer.

In most injury claim scenarios, there's simply no substitute for a lawyer's experience and expertise when it comes to:

Learn more about getting help from a personal injury lawyer.

You shouldn't turn to just any lawyer for help; look for someone who has experience handling your type of case—and who you feel you can trust.

How to Find Experienced Personal Injury Attorneys

There are several ways to gather together a few personal injury lawyer candidates. Be sure to comparison-shop. Get the names of several lawyers and talk (via phone or video call) or meet with each of them in person to discuss your claim before making a hiring decision. And be prepared for rejection. Many lawyers don't take cases that fall below a certain potential recovery amount, or where fault for the accident isn't crystal clear.

So, where to start your search for the right personal injury lawyer?

Friends and Family

Talk with friends, family, coworkers, or anyone else you know who's been represented by a lawyer in their own personal injury claims. If your contact has good things to say, put their lawyer on your list, but don't make a decision solely on the basis of someone else's recommendation.

Different people will have different responses to a lawyer's style and personality, so don't make up your mind until you've met (or at least talked with) the lawyer, discussed your case, and decided that you'd feel comfortable working with them.

Referrals From Other Lawyers

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 have a few personal injury experts in their network. As with referrals from friends or coworkers, however, don't simply take another lawyer's referral as the final word.

Online Attorney Referral Services

Many local bar associations and commercial websites offer online lawyer referral services, often arranged by legal specialty.

Some lawyer referral services carefully screen attorneys and list only those with particular qualifications and a certain amount of past experience, while others will list any attorney in good standing with the state bar, as long as the attorney maintains liability insurance.

What you might not get from a 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. It's usually a good idea to communicate with a candidate lawyer directly before making any decisions. A number of websites, including this one, let users connect with local attorneys who can provide one-on-one feedback and case evaluation.

How to Choose the Best Personal Injury Lawyer for You

To find out whether a lawyer is right for you, sit down with them to discuss your claim and possible ways of handling it. Bring copies of all your documents related to your case, including:

  • any police report or incident report generated after the accident
  • all medical records and bills relating to your claim (it's okay if you don't have everything at this stage)
  • documentation of any income loss or other financial harm resulting from the accident and your injuries, and
  • all correspondence with the insurance company.

Most lawyers don't charge for an initial consultation. If a lawyer wants to charge you before they'll discuss the basics of your case, look elsewhere.

General Experience

After you and the candidate lawyer have discussed your case, you may want to learn a few things about the lawyer and their practice, including:

  • How long has the lawyer been in practice?
  • Roughly what percentage of the lawyer's practice involves personal injury cases?
  • Does the lawyer most often represent plaintiffs or defendants? You don't want to be represented by someone whose experience with personal injury cases has primarily been as a lawyer for defendants, or for insurance companies. Their way of thinking may be too closely tied to the attitudes of insurance companies, and they might not fight as hard—consciously or not—for your claim.
  • Would the lawyer personally handle your case or pass it along to another (perhaps less experienced) lawyer in the office? It's normal for more than one attorney in an office to work on the same case, and to have less experienced attorneys handle routine tasks. Find out which lawyer would have responsibility for the case and which lawyer you'd be dealing with directly. If there's to be another lawyer directly involved, ask to meet that lawyer, too.

Should You Settle Your Personal Injury Case or Go to Court?

After you've discussed the facts of your case, you may be able to get some sense from the lawyer about how much your personal injury case is worth, and how difficult it may be to get the insurance company to pay that amount.

Now is the time to discuss your objective, and to get a sense of the likelihood that you might:

  • obtain a certain settlement amount with as few costs and as little hassle as possible
  • obtain an amount higher than what the insurance company has offered as soon as possible, or
  • obtain as much as possible, no matter how long it takes.

Part of this discussion will likely cover the pros and cons of settling versus pressing on and taking your claim to court by filing a personal injury lawsuit. Every situation is unique, so there's no one-size-fits-all strategy here. Learn more about why most personal injury cases settle, and filing a personal injury lawsuit.

Discuss How Your Personal Injury Lawyer Will Get Paid

It's important to discuss the financial side of the attorney-client relationship, including:

  • how your lawyer will get paid for their services, and
  • how case costs are handled.

Most personal injury lawyers work under a contingency fee agreement, meaning they don't get paid for their legal services unless you receive money via settlement or court award. At that point, the lawyer takes an agreed-upon percentage as their fee.

Case costs (like filing fees, investigator/expert consultation services, and so on) can be a bit more complicated, so it's important to learn how these will be handled right up front. Learn more about how personal injury lawyers get paid and how "costs" work in a personal injury case.

If you feel confident with the lawyer's experience, and comfortable with their ideas on how to proceed with your case, chances are good that you've found a lawyer you can work with.

Learn more about what to ask a potential personal injury lawyer.

Next Steps

Once you've found a lawyer 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 as your case is progressing. Get tips on being a good personal injury client.

12/30/2015

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